Thursday, March 7, 2013

Tokyo Olympics 2020?

courtesy of Jamie Barras
from Flickr
Thursday March 7, 1:22 p.m.

Was watching NHK News this morning. For the past few mornings, the broadcast has been focusing on the IOC's visit to Tokyo to see if Japan's capital is up to hosting the Olympics for a 2nd time since its inaugural shot in 1964. The Games there happened just several months before my birth, so the only record I have of them is a very old, beat-up but huge commemorative magazine and a coin given to me by my late grandfather.

It's been the grand inu-&-kouma show for the gang at IOC. Prime Minister Abe was abnormally cheerful and gave a fairly bizarre first few words in his speech as he persuaded the visiting group to give Tokyo the opportunity. And during a tour around the city, the IOC stopped at some table tennis training facility where table tennis Olympic darling, Ai Fukuhara, was working up a massive sweat pounding away at the table with a huge nailed-on smile that rather unnerved me. I've seen Fukuhara practice on TV, and she has only had the most serious expression during training.

Do I seem a bit skeptical? You bet. When Tokyo was vying for the 2016 Games under former Governor Shintaro Ishihara, it seemed that the only folks interested in getting the Olympics were the folks talking with the IOC about the possibility. 99.9% of the citizens around the country, however, gave a collective yawn, or if they lived in the capital, grumbled about having to head out of the city to avoid the traffic craziness. It's kinda like how a lot of Torontonians felt about having an Olympics come over here....not very excited. I think the Chinese were excited about the 2000 Games and the British were ecstatic about getting the London Olympics, but Toronto?....meh. We're getting the Pan Am Games in a couple of years, and the news hasn't exactly been all that overwhelmingly approving here about those.

In the NHK report, a reporter who's been on the Olympics beat for years, did some man-on-the-street interviews in front of Shimbashi Station in Tokyo, one of the places to be to get the opinion of the common working person. I'm sure there was quite a bit of editing involved for the report since the man was giving out a lot of "Sumimasen"; I could imagine that a lot of the folks probably just wanted to avoid him to avoid the embarrassment of using the English language despite the fact that an interpreter was there on hand. However, he was able to snag a few people and ask them their opinions of an Olympics in their city. And frankly, my impression of their answers was that they were on the polite "Well, it would be n-i-i-i-c-e...." level, but nothing exciting. Now, the Japanese are relatively reserved when dealing with people they're not familiar with, but I think they can be a lot more excited about things they really support, and I didn't see it with those interviewees. The reporter himself observed that Japan certainly has the technology and the logistics, but he was still looking for more spirit behind the bid. And the expression on his face and his tone kinda said that there wasn't a lot of that.

When Japan was bidding for the 1964 Olympics, I could imagine a people who would rally around the flag, as they were already doing for some years just to rebuild their country. That collective oomph didn't need to be generated by an Olympic committee of old folks or the national government; it was already there, ready to be harvested. A Tokyo Olympics would be the globally-sanctioned welcome back for Japan, and the national celebration for the people to say that Japan was becoming healthy again. The Japanese then had something to prove, and any grumbles about traffic and overcrowding probably didn't exist to a great degree since the people had been going through much more hardship. Nowadays, most folks have been accustomed to the good life, even in the last two decades of economic doldrums, so that they will grumble loudly about an international sports event invading their city in terms of what it may do to their surrounding infrastructure for 2 weeks and their tax payments for the 7 years leading up to the Games. Probably a lot of people may feel that there is nothing to prove about their country. Plus, they've got plenty of smaller international sports events such as The World Baseball Classic or the numerous running marathons, they would say.

It's possible that people could be brought together on behalf of all those who have suffered from the 2011 Earthquake/Tsunami/Nuclear Disaster. Obviously that was an environmental maelstrom that had international coverage and its effects were felt well beyond the Tohoku region. However, I'm not sure if even something of that magnitude would rally people around an Olympic bid these days. Some people in the quake-ravaged areas may question the sense of spending money on a sports event years down the line when there is still so much that needs to be done in the short-term alone. Some Tokyoites may wonder about the sense of supporting an Olympic bid just because a totally separate area got wrecked. But then again, the Tohoku may reap dividends from the fact that thousands of foreign tourists may visit the area during their time attending the Games.

But it all comes down to how much the Japanese want the Games. That reporter stated something that stuck in my head: "The IOC won't give the Games to a city that doesn't want them." I think the next 6 months will be critical to see how much Tokyo and Japan want them.