Japan’s bid to host 2016 Olympic Games a pipe dream


“Yes means maybe. Maybe means difficult. Difficult means impossible.”

Jack Gallagher

When I first moved to Japan, many years ago, someone imparted me with this wisdom and told me to remember it in my dealings here.

The advice has stayed with me ever since.

It came to mind again recently when I started thinking about the Japan Olympic Committee’s selection of Tokyo over Fukuoka as the city to represent the nation’s bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The JOC’s decision to enter into the race at all is a complete exercise in futility. Japan has absolutely no chance of winning this competition, which makes me wonder why the JOC is even trying.

The reasons why Japan’s bid is doomed are plentiful:

Timing — Coming just eight years after the 2008 Games in Beijing, the International Olympic Committee is highly unlikely to select another Asian city to host the Summer Games.

Competition — With strong bids from the United States (San Francisco, Chicago or Los Angeles), Europe (Madrid) and South America (Rio de Janeiro) expected, Tokyo will be going up against formidable opposition.

Facilities — One of the most flawed aspects of the Tokyo bid is the fact that organizers want to host some of the events in venues that were built for the 1964 Games.

I’m sure that IOC members aren’t going to take very kindly to sites that will have been in existence for at least 52 years, by the time the 2016 Games roll around.

Television — Let’s face it, the IOC likes to put the Games in places where the time zones are more favorable to European and North American audiences, and larger rights fees can be garnered. Awarding the Games to an Asian city does not do this.

History — IOC members have long memories. The trouble caused by the fallout from the awarding of the 1998 Nagano Games still resonates with many.

When Japan made its final presentation for the event, in June of 1991 in Birmingham, England, it was still enjoying the benefits of the economic bubble.

The Nagano organizers promised they would pay for the transportation of all of the athletes to the Games. The ploy worked, and Nagano won the bid.

However, by 1998, the economy in Japan had cooled off considerably and Nagano reneged on its offer, eventually providing only $1,000 to a limited number of athletes to cover transportation costs.

The damage from this was significant and had consequences.

When Osaka bid for the 2008 Games, it received only six votes — after being told the night before that it had many more — and was eliminated on the first ballot.

I am not one to usually complain about the use of taxpayer money when it comes to sporting endeavors, but in this case I think the issue is legitimate.

The projected cost for Tokyo just to campaign in the international bidding for the 2016 Games is 5.5 billion yen, with the metropolitan government to contribute 1.5 billion yen of that figure.

Those are staggering sums, and with some of the inferior venues the bid will have to utilize it just does not make sense.

A wiser course of action would be to begin building new venues now, which are sorely needed, then bid for the 2020 Games, when Japan would have a more legitimate chance of winning.

None other than JOC president Tsunekazu Takeda, who has done of fine job of trying to reform the organization, made the following statement at a Foreign Sportswriters Association of Japan meeting in November 2004, when asked about future Olympic bids.

“At this point, it is probably getting late to even try for 2016, so I would say that our best chance at hosting a future Summer Games would be in 2020,” he said.

That was nearly two years ago.

Which begs the question, “Why is Japan bidding for the 2016 Games?”

Pressure from politicians and corporations is the likely answer.

The IOC will pick the finalists from the 2016 candidate cities in July 2008.

In February and March of 2009, the IOC will then conduct an inspection tour of those cities.

In October 2009, the IOC will select the winner at its meeting in Copenhagen.

A member of the JOC, who voted in the selection process to select Japan’s host city for the 2016 bid, informed me that it would be difficult for Tokyo to win the overall competition.

Which takes us back to that old saying.

“Difficult means impossible.”

You got that right.