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#Analize / Mălina Mîndruțescu

The failure of the Tokyo Olympic Games

The Olympic Games started off on Friday, July 23rd in Tokyo, after a tumultuous year.

The much-awaited sports contest, which was due to be held in 2020, but was delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was only ever halted due to the two world wars in 1916, 1940 and 1944.

However, in the last few months, the biggest sports event has been embroidered in controversy, political interests and a polarised public opinion. In 2013, as Japan was submitting its bid to organizing the event in 2020, the government of then prime-minister Shinzo Abe was counting on what this sports extravaganza would mean for a country that was struggling economically and had a withering influence on the world stage.

Fast forward eight years, the Olympic Games opened on Friday, but not as the Japanese government had hoped for. Shinzo Abe, who stepped down late last year, did not even attend the opening ceremony, leaving his successor, Yoshihide Suga to fend for his political survival.

A financial debacle, fuelled by a lingering PR failure

Suga must maintain Abe’s promise of organizing a “safe and secure” Games without his political future depending on it. The Tokyo Games were supposed to be the centre of the world’s attention for two weeks, which would highlight Japan’s economic, strategic and political prowess of a renewed country, using the Games as a tool of soft diplomacy and country brand.

However, with Covid-19 cases mounting in Japan and an extremely low vaccination rate in a country that is lauded for its extreme efficiency and resolute governing system, the Tokyo Games could not have come at a worse time, it seems. Reported cases of the virus are rising in the country and the Japanese people have been increasingly vocal in their opposition of the Games being held in Tokyo. People are fearing that the games will not only worsen the Covid-19 in the country, but the event could become a global “super spreader” event.

stadium with no spectators

Photo source: New York Times


The medical community has been against organising this event –from the Japanese medical community opposing the events being held to the government’s chief medical adviser calling it “abnormal” to hold the Olympic Games given the health crisis that we are still undergoing, the question of the sports event being held in person has raised concerns from the medical elite around the world.

The Olympic Games – a political and popularity gamble

Leaving aside the political repercussions of what it would have meant to cancel so late into the process, there are also a lot of financial considerations to be taken into account. Japan has officially invested up to 15.4 billion dollars into the mammoth event, even though government audits suggest it could have been twice as much. Also, according to the hosting city contract, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has sole authority in cancelling the event. Thus, Japan would have had to pay IOC over 4 billion dollars in broadcast rights income if they cancelled without the authorisation of the committee.

Also, an array of controversies clouded over the Tokyo Olympics in the last few moonths. Yoshiro Mori, the president of the organizing committee and a former prime minister, resigned in February over sexist comments, Hiroshi Sasaki, the creative director of the opening and closing ceremonies of the Tokyo Olympics resigned in March after calling a plus-size celebrity “olympig” and as late as last week, Tokyo Olympic composer Keigo Oyamada resigned after admitting that he bullied disabled children.

This is not the end, however: just a day before the opening ceremony on Friday, Kentaro Kobayashi, the creative director of the opening ceremony was dismissed from his role after a video of him emerged making fun of the Holocaust back in the 1990s.


Photo source: Photoshot


In what is already an extremely atypical and unpopular event, the outcry that has been echoed following these high-profile resignations calls into question not only the gross mismanagement of the organizers, but also the toxic and backward work culture that is still prevalent in a work dynamic Japan that is still dominated by men whose actions and behaviours are exempt from accountability, were it not for the high visibility of the Olympic Games.

Also, given the rise in COVID-19 in the past few weeks, the organizers announced just a few days before the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Games that all contests will be held without an audience in the stalls. This is the first Olympic Games that will be held without spectators.

With an expensive infrastructure plan for the Olympic Games and a stadium that is able to sit 68,000 people, the opening ceremony of the 32nd Olympic Games had up to 1000 dignitaries in attendance. With over 11,000 athletes from over 305 countries expected to compete in the next two weeks in over 33 sports, the pressure is high on Japan’s organising team.

tokyo olympics


With little over 22% of the country’s population of over 126 million fully vaccinated, Japan’s vaccination rate is alarmingly low compared to the rest of the world’s big players. In addition to spectators being banned from attending the Tokyo Olympic Games, cases have not only soared since the Games started, but there have also been reported cases of athletes who have been infected – a record of 110 COVID-19 infections related to the Games, among them also being three athletes, reported on July 23rd.

While the Tokyo Olympic Games was supposed to bring faith that the world has moved on from the pandemic, showcase the rebirth of international events and of the joy we all share when watching sports and when an entire world is brought together to enjoy the splendour of competition, hard work and victory, the Games in Japan will be remembered rather differently: as a highly politicised enterprise, whose aim in showcasing the world’s best athletes were overshadowed by controversy, scandal, mismanagement and a pandemic that has proved that is far from over.

Other True Story Project analyses can be found here and here.


Photo source: Associated Press

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