Tokyo Olympics legacy still unraveled a year later

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TOKYO (AP) — The Tokyo Olympics has weathered the postponement of COVID-19, soaring spending and some public opposition. A year later, the costs and benefits remain as difficult to disentangle as the Games were to unfold.

In his speech at the Closing Ceremony, IOC President Thomas Bach said a major achievement of the Games was simply to reach the end.

“We did it,” Bach said. “We did it together,” he repeated, thanking the athletes, Japanese government officials and deep-pocketed broadcasters for reshaping the Games despite the absence of disappointed fans, sponsors and supporters. lack of buzz in the city.

Organizers said the Games would boost tourism, showcase Japan’s technological prowess and create memories similar to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The pandemic erased that.

Japan’s aim after the postponement was to pull through, knowing that Beijing was hosting the Winter Olympics in China just six months after Tokyo closed. For the International Olympic Committee, it was a priority to broadcast the Games on television and to satisfy the big sponsors, sources of 90% of the IOC’s income.

“I think what the Games meant more than anything else was just not having to deal with a cancellation,” David Leheny, a political scientist at Japan’s Waseda University, told The Associated Press. “There was no public health disaster associated with it. I think the officials would have liked to do a victory lap – if the public had been more enthusiastic about it.”

“If Japan had canceled,” Leheny added, “there would have been a lot of talk, especially in the conservative media, about what it meant that we couldn’t make it.”

As a final act before legally disbanding the organizing committee on June 30, President Seiko Hashimoto and CEO Toshiro Muto said the Tokyo Games prize money was $13 billion, nearly 60% public money. . That was double the cost estimated when the IOC awarded the Games to Tokyo, but less than the $25 billion some had predicted.

How to judge? Legacy or expensive hangover? Is there a success to celebrate, or is it just about rejoicing that you haven’t failed?

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government, grappling with $5.4 billion in Games spending, has campaigned to persuade the public that half a dozen new venues have post-Games uses. Typical is a reopening ceremony next week at the canoe-slalom site, with a canoe parade for primary school students.

A center dedicated to the LGBTQ community was championed during the Games, and the Paralympics pushed Tokyo to improve accessibility around the city.

The city government is hosting a one-year anniversary event Saturday at the $1.4 billion National Stadium to mark the date of the opening ceremony. Athletes, high school and college marching bands, and cheerleaders are to appear.

Tokyo was initially billed as the “Recovery Olympics,” but that played little after the delay. Government officials promised ahead of the postponement that the Games would draw attention to a region of northeast Japan devastated in 2011 by an earthquake, tsunami and the meltdown of three nuclear reactors.

Japan’s Kyodo news agency published a survey of 4,000 people, compiled by a government agency, which showed only 29.8% said they were grateful for government support for reconstruction. Many in the region believe the Olympics have sapped resources for recovery efforts.

“I almost feel like the Olympics has come to this very quiet time where people don’t want to talk about it or even think about it,” Aki Tonami, a political economist at Japan’s University of Tsukuba, told AP. “Any analysis of what the Olympics meant is still in the symbolic phase. We don’t really have the capacity or the bandwidth to really dig for a more lasting meaning.

Kyodo also reported this week that a member of the organizing committee’s executive board received $326,000 from a Games sponsor. As a quasi-civil servant, Kyodo said he was not authorized to receive such payments.

Board member Haruyuki Takahashi is a former director of Japanese advertising agency Dentsu, Inc, which helped land $3 billion in local sponsorship for the Tokyo Games.

Amid the uncertainty, there is a clear legacy. Despite scandals, inflated costs and lukewarm public support, Japan is pursuing the 2030 Winter Olympics for Sapporo. And he’s trying to use the Tokyo Games to drive the bid.

Sapporo puts the price at $2.6 billion, likely an understatement since Tokyo’s spending was at least double the original estimate. And it is impossible to accurately estimate eight years in advance.

“We are already working on it,” Tokyo Games manager Seiko Hashimoto said last month. “The importance of the Tokyo Games must be communicated thoroughly, otherwise the people of Sapporo and Hokkaido will not support this initiative.”

Sapporo is believed to be the leading contender competing with Vancouver and Salt Lake City. Salt Lake officials suggested they could focus on 2034. The IOC is expected to name the host in May 2023 and IOC President Bach in an interview with Kyodo appeared to rule out assigning 2030 and 2034 at the same time.

None of the three cities require citizens to approve the bid in a public referendum, which has always been rejected when related to funding for the Olympics.

“Before, there was no doubt that it was the right thing to do to bring the Olympics to Japan,” Tonami said. “But I think what’s different now is that people are starting to wonder if it’s really the right thing to do.”

Barbara Holthus, deputy director of the German Institute for Japanese Studies in Tokyo, worked as a volunteer during the Olympics and became familiar with the streets.

“People were so upset that (IOC President) Thomas Bach shoved the Olympics down everyone’s throats without considering Japanese feelings,” she said. “And now they want to start again without asking the people of Sapporo, what they should do in Germany.”

Holthus, who grew up in Hamburg, Germany, pointed out that in 2015 local voters turned down a referendum to hold the 2024 Olympics in the northern German city. Like Holthus, IOC President Bach is also German.

Working as an Olympic volunteer, Holthus said he saw other volunteers refuse to wear their uniforms on public transport while traveling to the venue during the pandemic. She said the volunteers were ordered to wear the uniforms as there was no provision for storing street clothes at the venues, but some did not want to be identified at the Games.

She said it was different recently when volunteers came together to clean up some beaches in Tokyo.

“My colleagues last year, a lot of them didn’t want to be seen around their neighborhood in uniform. People thought, maybe you’d bring the virus back to the office or the neighborhood. But during the recent event, we were asked to wear our uniform. Of course, not everyone did it, but some did – and they were really proud to wear it now. So I think that bad taste in the uniform is now kind of gone.

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