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On Dec. 3, Kyodo News reported that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics had cost less than had been anticipated, owing mainly to the fact that the Games were held without spectators, thus saving at least ¥150 billion in personnel and security expenses. These savings offset lost ticket sales, so it’s unlikely there will be any additional burden on taxpayers.

That’s good news, although it’s difficult to gauge the public’s feelings about it, given the Olympic roller coaster they’ve been riding since Tokyo won the bid to host the Games in 2013. At the time, the bid committee estimated the Games would cost ¥734 billion, a number few believed would stay that low. Then again, few expected it to balloon to ¥1.644 trillion, which was the estimate in December 2020 after the one-year postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic added an additional ¥294 billion onto the bill. The next order of business is figuring out how much each interested party will pay.

However, that won’t be the end of it. Tokyo is still stuck with venues built for the Games that it will have to maintain, and, according to an NHK report, five of these six facilities are expected to run in the red. The exception is Ariake Arena, which could make ¥356 million a year through international sports events and concerts. The others are expected to run deficits ranging from ¥11.7 million to ¥638 million a year. Consequently, Tokyo is launching a program to promote the use of these venues to the public through sightseeing activities as well as soliciting bids for corporate naming rights.

Although the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics was deemed a success by many in the mainstream media, that conclusion was based mainly on what didn’t happen — namely, that the feared spike in COVID-19 infections did not materialize. As far as members of the Japanese public are concerned, they were effectively shut out of a major international event they had hoped to be a part of.

A Nov. 30 Asahi Shimbun article said that this ambivalent feeling about the Tokyo Olympics may affect Sapporo’s bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympics, which will be determined next year. There’s a good chance it will win the bid, if only because there is little competition and the International Olympic Committee no longer seems disposed toward the kind of drama that usually surrounds the bidding process and just wants to get on with it. The longer it takes, the more likely residents of candidate cities get cold feet, and the IOC prefers that any bid should be supported by a potential host city’s residents.

According to the Asahi Shimbun, it’s not clear if Sapporo residents want their city to host the Games. The last time a survey was taken to determine interest was in 2014, when 66.7% supported a bid to some extent, while 20.6% did not. That sounds positive, but a lot has happened in the intervening seven years.

As the Mainichi Shimbun pointed out in a Dec. 2 article, the bid committee isn’t necessarily counting on public opinion. If Sapporo does have the bid sewn up as far as the IOC is concerned, then the committee’s job is to work backward and convince locals it will be a good thing.

The current estimate of the cost of holding the 2030 Winter Games is ¥300 billion, which is about ¥90 billion less than the initial estimate. The bid is centered on the idea that no new venues will be built. Instead, facilities created for the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics will be renovated. This principle of using what’s available is part of IOC guidelines but rarely plays out in reality. Tokyo 2020 was also based on a plan to use existing facilities that was to some extent abandoned after Tokyo was chosen as the host.

Sapporo was the first Asian city to host the Winter Games when it hosted the event in 1972. | KYODO
Sapporo was the first Asian city to host the Winter Games when it hosted the event in 1972. | KYODO

And as the Asahi Shimbun pointed out, the motivation for holding the Olympics has changed since 1972, when Sapporo was the first Asian city to host the Winter Games and needed the kind of infrastructure demanded of an international metropolis. In 2021, it’s a city of 2 million that is no longer growing. Moreover, under the present IOC system, host cities are in a weaker position than they were 50 years ago, since they now bear a larger share of the cost.

The Asahi Shimbun also points out that very few cities that have hosted the Winter Olympics enjoyed a subsequent boom in inbound tourism afterward, a factor that may concern the prefectural government of Hokkaido, which is determined to be the Japanese mecca for winter sports, despite a 2018 survey of Sapporo residents that found only 11.8% of respondents said they partake of winter sports more than once a year.

According to the Mainichi Shimbun, supporters plan to hold a series of workshops and symposia in January and February to promote the bid to residents and tie it to events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Games. Their fear is that any additional financial burden may anger residents, a point acknowledged by Sapporo Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto at a news conference on Nov. 29. Even in the 2014 survey, about half the respondents said they were worried about how much the Games would cost. Consequently, the city has set the estimate for rebuilding and repairing facilities at ¥45.9 billion after an initial estimate that ranged as high as ¥60 billion.

The city is planning to conduct a survey of residents in March, or after the conclusion of the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, whose outcome could complicate matters. Reportedly, Japan will not send any Cabinet members to Beijing in a nod to its ally, the U.S., which has announced a diplomatic boycott of the Games to protest what it characterizes as China’s human rights violations.

It’s not certain that such a move will put the Sapporo bid at risk, but if it turns out the IOC is already set on Sapporo, the survey itself could backfire, since one of its purposes is to make the IOC happy. What if it turns out residents don’t want to get back on the roller coaster?

See www.philipbrasor.com for addenda to Media Mix contributions.

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