Here’s a feature story/analysis I wrote about Tokyo’s bid for the 2020 Olympics for Sports On Earth in September 2013.


By Ed Odeven

TOKYO — Fueled by the twin catalysts of top-down organizational enthusiasm and strong financial backing, the Tokyo 2020 Bid Committee is seen by many as the clear favorite to be awarded the 2020 Summer Olympics. Madrid and Istanbul are the other two finalists, the former bidding for the third straight time and the latter making its fifth consecutive bid. Tokyo also bid for the 2016 Olympics, but Rio de Janeiro emerged victorious.

Madrid’s bid is impacted by Spain’s severe economic problems, like 27 percent unemployment. The Guardian reported Friday that Spain’s under-25 unemployment now stands at an alarming 56.1 percent, second in the European Union to Greece’s 62.9. Istanbul’s bid likewise is affected by rising tensions, fears and anxiety in the Middle East as the Olympic vote draws near. Turkey’s neighbor Syria is embroiled in a civil war, facing the possibility of U.S.-led airstrikes in retaliation for chemical weapons attacks that reportedly killed more than 1,400 civilians.

Does that make Tokyo a guaranteed winner for the 2020 Games? Of course not, history has taught us.

There have been several surprise winners over the years, including the 2012 games, for which London topped Paris 54-50 in the second and final round of voting in 2005. Similarly, Vancouver edged Pyeongchang 56-53 in second-round voting for the 2010 Winter Games, in 2003. Equally dramatic was Sydney’s 45-43 winning tally over Beijing for the 2000 Summer Games, decided in 1993.

That highly anticipated 2020 decision will be made by some 100 IOC members on Sept. 7, at a swanky Buenos Aires hotel, while half a world away, more than a few Tokyoites will begin their day — or further prolong their night — by finding out the news, scheduled to be announced at 5 a.m. in Japan.

If Tokyo wins the bid, it will be hosting the Summer Olympics for the second time, following the 1964 Olympics, the first to be staged on Asian soil. The planned 1940 Tokyo Games never took place because of World War II. Athens (1896 and 2004), London (1908, 1948 and 2012), Paris (1900 and 1924) and Los Angeles (1932 and 1984) already have hosted multiple Summer Olympics.

Four years after the hugely successful L.A. Olympics concluded, Kenneth Reich of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “Had anyone predicted that the Games would actually turn a profit of $222.7 million, as they did, he would probably have been laughed out of the city, In fact, when Olympic chairman Paul Ziffren said in the spring of 1978 that they could make $100 million, it was hardly reported.

“And the International Olympic Committee thought a surplus was such a small possibility,” Reich continued, “it didn’t even bother to contractually reserve any of it for itself, a mistake it has not made since.”

The City of Angels’ 52-year gap between Olympiads, not unlike what London experienced or what Tokyo may experience, ensured that this would happen. Some 40,000 volunteers spearheaded the civic support for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, preparing the city for the global masses to visit the iconic L.A. Memorial Coliseum and other venues. It produced new memories for generations of Californians, and its financial success — plus the medal-winning exploits of Carl Lewis and Edwin Moses, Mary Lou Retton and Greg Louganis, among others — ensured a lasting legacy for the L.A. Olympic Organizing Committee and its president, Peter Ueberroth.

Ueberroth’s team was able to reinvest that operating surplus for an array of future sports-related projects through LA84 Foundation, which, according to their website, “has committed more than $214 million to accomplish its mission since 1985. To date, more than 3 million boys and girls, and more than 1,100 youth sports organizations throughout Southern California have benefited from the endowment.”

Similarly, Tokyo bid organizers are promoting the future-legacy theme — “Discover Tomorrow” — as an essential element of its bid.

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Tokyo’s robust financial status puts it on par with London and New York among the world’s financial headquarters, a fact the bid committee points out repeatedly in press releases and newsletters. Exhibit A: On Page 2 of one four-page newsletter, circulated to the media and others, enclosed in a green circle are these words: “47 Fortune 500 companies [are] headquartered in Tokyo, more than any other city.” In addition, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has earmarked $4.5 billion in reserve funds for the 2020 Games. At a July, 2012, press gathering, bid committee CEO Masato Mizuno summarized the goal of his organization, stating that replicating the 1964 Summer Games, giving Japan “so much hope and the dream for the future — is the ultimate target again.”

Another leading figure for Tokyo is Tsunekaza Takeda — president of both the Japanese Olympic Committee and the 2020 Tokyo Bid Committee, as well as a two-time Olympian himself (1972 Munich and 1976 Montreal) in equestrian jumping. His father, Tsuneyoshi Takeda, was the JOC president in 1959, when Tokyo was chosen for the ’64 Olympics. In a nutshell, Takeda’s Olympic experiences over the decades — as coach, administrator, Chef de Mission, and sports director — exemplify the Olympic movement’s rise in prominence in Japan.

What’s Takeda’s assessment of the potential legacy of a Tokyo-held 2020 Olympics?

“Tokyo will see a birth of a new sports and entertainment district in one of the city’s most desirable waterfront areas as a legacy of Tokyo 2020,” Takeda told in July. “Competition will be staged in historic venues dating from the 1964 Games, modernized and refurbished to extend their legacy for at least another 50 years, and in new permanent venues that will herald a new legacy, bringing much-needed facilities to city.”

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American author and journalist Robert Whiting arrived in Japan in 1962, while serving in the U.S. Air Force, and is widely respected for his books on Japanese baseball, which include the Pulitzer Prize nominee You Gotta Have Wa. He sees the potential for a major transformation in Japanese society if IOC members give the nod to Tokyo.

“The 1964 Olympics revivified the spirit of the city and the nation as a whole,” Whiting said. “It announced to the world that Japan was back as a member of the international community, after its misadventures in war and devastating defeat. Japanese were proud to be Japanese again.

“The 2020 Olympics could do the same,” he added. “It could help snap Tokyoites out of the doldrums they have been in for the 20 years — an economic funk brought on by the collapse of the bubble — and give them renewed purpose and a new sense of pride.”

To be in this position signals that Tokyo’s compact plan for the games has resonated with the IOC’s evaluation team. That plan would put 29 of 31 primary venues within a radius of five miles. Veteran journalist Shigemi Sato noted that the ambitious compact-games model is a selling point that has economists, government planners and construction companies lined up to pontificate, analyze and, most important, divvy out jobs.

“The Tokyo metropolitan government has estimated an economic spin-off effect of three trillion yen ($30.5 billion) nationwide over eight years, coupled with the creation of about 150,000 jobs, as a result of the 2020 Olympics in the Japanese capital,” Sato said. “The sum includes 1.2 trillion yen in ‘direct demand’ such as construction of facilities, Olympic operations and what Olympic visitors spend,” he continued, noting that the London games eventually were estimated to have spawned some $26.5 billion in economic impact.

“Tokyo’s 1964 Summer Olympics was marked with an orgy of infrastructural investment to reshape the capital’s landscape — the ‘bullet’ train between Tokyo and Osaka, the metropolitan expressway network and the Tokyo airport monorail to name a few,” Sato said. “If Tokyo wins the 2020 bid, another boom is likely — albeit on a much lesser scale to stimulate the stagnant domestic economy.”

The Tokyo Bid Committee has stated officially that 383.1 billion yen ($3.9 billion) would be used on Olympic facilities’ expenditures, with the crown jewel a new retractable roof National Stadium (an 80,000-seat capacity venue “with a futuristic spacecraft look,” Sato noted) to replace the old National Stadium, which opened in 1958.

The 2019 Rugby World Cup plans to stage games at the new National Stadium, a symbolic step forward for the next generation of sports in Tokyo, where the 2020 Summer Games could, indeed, take the nation back to the future.


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