Tokyo Olympics 2020: What does it mean for Japan?
The much-awaited Tokyo Olympics 2020 began on July 23, 2021, with few if any spectators from home and abroad due to the Covid related "new normal".
Earlier, the Games were postponed in 2020 because of the global pandemic of Covid-19. A recent poll in the leading Daily Asahi Shimbun suggests that more than 80 percent of the Japanese population want the Games either to be cancelled or postponed. Japan's continuing struggle with the pandemic is the root cause of their concern.
Many of the Japanese big business circles including the SoftBank and Rakuten voiced their concerns about the government's decision to hold the Tokyo Summer Olympics. Even some of the Japanese companies who usually sponsor the Olympics called for the games to be postponed till autumn. We know that Japan's medical infrastructure, at any definition, is of global standard. Even though the high infection rates, especially in Tokyo and Osaka, keep the Japanese epidemiologists on alert. The vaccination programmes are in action, and it is expected that all Japanese willing to be vaccinated will have access to vaccines by the end of October 2021.
Despite public opinion against the Olympics, and growing concerns from health experts, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) remains committed to hold the Games.
From the very beginning the Japanese government has been pushing the ball into the court of the IOC to cancel or postpone the Games.
Now under tremendous pressure from the public, the government has decided that no spectators will cheer on the athletes in the Tokyo Olympics. Why Japan is determined to hold the Tokyo Olympics amidst the grave concerns about the pandemic is a million-dollar question.
After winning the bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, since 2013, has spent a substantial amount of money, around more than $18 billion (including private companies) on the Olympics and Paralympic Games.
Observers opine that Japan's determination to hold the Olympics is something more than just hosting the summer games. Many in Japan consider the Olympics as soft power dividends for Japan. We recall that the Beijing Olympics 2008 marked the graduation of China to great power status.
Moreover, the next Games on the global calendar are the Winter Games to be hosted again by China -- Japan's regional rival -- in Beijing in February 2022. Experts think that by cancelling the Summer Olympics 2020, Japan won't be ready to be outshined by China.
In addition to that, this mega event would also help Japan repair its relationship with neighbours such as China, North Korea, South Korea, Russia; and strengthen relationships with other participating countries throughout the globe.
The last time Japan hosted a Summer Olympics was in 1964. The Tokyo Olympics 1964 was the first ever Olympics to be held in Asia. Previously, Tokyo was supposed to host the 1940 Summer Olympics. They were, however, cancelled due to the outbreak of World War II and the Games did not resume till the 1948 London Olympics.
By that time Japan faced crushing defeats in the War and had been occupied by the Allied powers led by the United States.
Therefore, hosting the 1964 Olympics was immensely significant for Japan as it helped the country return to the global stage as a peaceful, economically well-to-do and self-confident nation.
For Japan, the themes of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics were to project to the world Japan's rehabilitation and rebuilding process after World War II, its technological ability, capability to recover from enormous difficulties, and above all its warm hospitality.
It is important to mention here that nine days before the opening ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Japan inaugurated the world's fastest bullet trains -- the Shinkansen -- linking Tokyo and Osaka at speeds of up to 210 kilometres an hour on October 1, 1964.
It is widely believed that the 1964 Tokyo Olympics marked the end of Japan's post-war exile status and its return to the international arena, boosting its global posture and prestige.
Similarly, the Tokyo Olympics 2020 also has a symbolic significance for Japan. Since the 1990s bubble burst, Japan had experienced a long economic stagnation. It had to face the strongest ever tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.
Therefore, Japan considers the 2020 Summer Olympics as a symbol to showcase a new, revitalised Japan. Apparently, Japan is determined to hold the Olympics to exhibit its obvious prestige, virtues and strengths globally.
Perhaps Tokyo 2020 cannot reinvigorate an "Olympic Economy" for Japan due to Covid-19, but it can demonstrate to the world the preparedness of Japan to host such a great sporting event. We wish a happy and secure Olympics for Japan.
SM Ali Reza, PhD (Japan) is a Professor of Political Science, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. He can be reached at [email protected]