A recent telephone poll conducted by Kyodo News found out that 69.9% of those surveyed did not believe that the Tokyo Olympics would be held as scheduled. That number reflect the general mood in Japan surrounding the games amidst the global coronavirus pandemic, and despite Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stating that the Group of Seven had agreed to support the hosting of a “complete” Tokyo Olympics, businesses and locals have started to prepare for the worst. How did we get here?
The Olympic Games are a tricky event that can be very difficult to manage and maximize. When done right, the Olympics can be a blessing. That’s exactly what happened during the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, which helped show the world what China had become and its emergence as a true economic power. Another success story occurred in Tokyo during the 1964 Summer Olympics, which helped reshape Japan’s image, now reborn from the aftermath of World War II as a pacific and technologically advanced country. When asking about success stories, no one could be as cheerful as Barcelona. The Spanish city had been under the radar for decades, but the 1992 Summer Olympics pushed the city into the gigantic tourist attraction that it is today.
However, the Olympics can also be a curse. When Montreal hosted the Olympics in 1976 with overrun costs of 720% that made the city face debts for the following 30 years. The Rio Olympics of 2016 were also marked by a period of unrest due to the 2014 Brazilian economic crisis and due to the Zika virus outbreak. And who could forget the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics? At a reported cost of 55 billion dollars but with estimates going as far as 70 billion, they are the most expensive Olympic Games in history and by a large margin. Sochi never became the touristic resort planners had envisioned, and the price tag and corruptions permeated the game’s legacy.
The Olympic Games were supposed to be a blessing for Tokyo and Japan. Tokyo immediately began revamping its infrastructure, investing billions to renovate its subway stations, and construct new buildings and facilities. The hope was that, just like the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics, the ones of 2020 would show the world a new Tokyo so that companies and tourists would be attracted into the city. Tokyo knew that the infrastructure boom would be temporary, but the city bet that the long-term effects of hosting the Olympics would end up benefiting Tokyo’s economy and strengthening its global influence.
However, COVID-19 is now threatening the Olympics, and a senior member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has stated that organizers have until May to decide the fate of the Olympics. The news has added unnecessary stress in Tokyo, with officials and citizens speculating what would happen to the games. After the announcement shook Japan, the IOC tried to reassure that it was committed to host the games in Tokyo this summer, but the public has it’s doubts. The consensus to many is clear: as long as the coronovirus is spreading, there won’t be a 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
What’s infuriating is that the IOC is reportedly not considering postponing the Olympics. Instead, it’s either hosting the games or cancelling them altogether, an act that has only occurred in times of war. The problem at hand is that the IOC is willing to throw Tokyo under the bus rather than lose some money.
Despite the announcement that the Olympics could not be moved to another month, Japan’s Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto has been paying close attention to the “Host City Contract”, finding an interesting loophole: that the IOC can cancel the Olympics only if they are not held in 2020, making the minister interpret that the games can be postpone to another month as long as they are still taking place in 2020.
However, the IOC generates most of its money from broadcasting rights, so moving the Olympics to another month would result in monetary losses since the Olympics would have to compete for viewers against other popular sports like American football. For that reason, the IOC would probably clash with Tokyo on this. For them, postponing the Olympics to another month would be out of the question, while for Tokyo cancelling the games would be completely unacceptable.
The IOC has not even mentioned the possibility of pushing the Paris and LA Olympics in order to let Tokyo host the event in four years. Their attitude of just letting Tokyo invest billions of dollars without even given the opportunity to try to make a profit thanks to the revenue coming in from tourists and the positive effect the Olympics could have once they were over.
In fact, the Olympics are rarely profitable for the cities hosting them, and if they are, the numbers are usually small. However, when the Olympics results in net losses, they can be huge. If the IOC decides to just cancel the Tokyo Olympics, then the city will face huge monetary losses.
The monetary losses cities face is one of the reasons that recently only the biggest and wealthiest cities are submitting bids to host the Summer Olympics. After all, if cities already have venues and the infrastructure to receive the influx of tourists, expenses can be kept down. In the end, revamping streets, stadiums, and train stations is cheaper than building everything from scratch.
But the biggest issue is not that the Olympics can be a risky investment. The greatest problem is that the IOC acts like an almighty deity. When the IOC moved the marathon and racewalking events to Sapporo without consulting the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, it became clear that the IOC would do whatever it wanted. After all, the IOC sets all the rules. It is the IOC who tells cities that the Olympics have to be held in summer despite climate change turning places like Tokyo and Paris into ovens.
At this point, cities will have to reconsider, and I mean REALLY reconsider before submitting bids to host the Olympics. Hosting the Olympics has always been a gamble, but if the IOC can just screw over the cities that are willing to invest billions of dollars to host the games and appease the IOC’s desires, then what’s even the point of hosting the games?
The fallout has been saddening. To successfully host the Olympics, a city needs to have the support of its citizens. Tokyo had that. Locals were extremely excited to be able to host the Olympics; but then reality hit: Lottery tickets were minimal and did not prioritize locals, the events that could be enjoyed by the largest number of citizens (the marathon and racewalking events) were moved, COVID-19 hit, and now the IOC has insinuated that the games would be cancelled. As a result, locals have lost the interest and support they initially had.
If the IOC won’t hesitate to throw cities under the bus, then it’s time for cities to step up and fight against the International Olympic Committee. It was stated that organizers have until May to keep the coronavirus under control, else the games would be cancelled. Since a decision won’t be made until May, Tokyo needs to get its big guns ready to battle the IOC. As for the future host cities of Paris and Los Angeles, as well as any other city thinking of hosting the games in the future, they need to pay attention to the events unfolding in Tokyo as they can serve as an important lesson on the nature of the IOC.