Media Mix, Dec. 15, 2019

Heizo Takenaka

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about the so-called shock of moving the 2020 Olympic marathon and walking race from Tokyo to Sapporo. As pointed out in the column, the International Olympic Committee has every right to unilaterally move events outside the host city and even the host country if they deem it necessary. Last week, in fact, it was announced that the surfing competition for the 2024 Paris Olympics will take place in Tahiti, which involves not just moving the event out of the city and out of the country, but out of the hemisphere. I anticipate that the column will be met by some criticism of the sort that says I am just finding new excuses to bash the Olympics, which is true to a certain extent, but I am under no illusion that the 2020 Olympics will be cancelled (unless there’s a natural disaster, which is not impossible). Nor do I think people who attend the Olympics in Tokyo will not enjoy themselves. Despite the naysayers, all Olympic Games usually end up with a net sum of happy memories, even if they often plunge the host city into a state of near bankruptcy. Tokyo’s budget will be more than ten times its original quote in the bid proposal, but Tokyo residents and Japanese citizens alike will suck up the debt and carry on.

The real point of the column is calling out hypocrisy. The Tokyo bid was built on a lie—nice weather—that everyone knew was a lie, and it’s only now that the relevant authorities are figuring out ways to avoid some of the consequences. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike can pout and complain as much as she likes but when you choose to do business with the IOC you have to understand that it’s their Games and not yours, and they are into this for the long run, which is why the Olympics has almost nothing to do with the ideals it has always tried to pass off as its core principles—world peace, sportsmanship, individual accomplishment. As Gentaro Taniguchi, the veteran sportswriter referenced extensively in the column, points out, money and nationalism are the two engines that drive the Olympics now, and the IOC not only knows that but encourages it, because they understand that those two elements are the only ones needed to perpetuate the Olympics as the kind of grand world event it is supposed to represent. An irony I didn’t discuss in the article is that Russia, as a national team, has been banned from the Olympics because of widespread institutional doping, but given the amount of money athletes need just to make them competitive at this level, why is doping vilified so stringently? Because it offers an athlete an advantage that can be attained without the kind of physical work normally associated with a “winning edge”? The fact is, the more money you have, the more edge you’re likely to attain. The difference can perhaps be explained, but not persuasively if you really get down to it.

The real hypocrisy is not in the money that’s put into the Games, but rather the money derived from it. It’s not clear that the temp agency Pasona became an Olympic partner with the knowledge that it would earn its contribution back and then some by gaining contracts for supplemental workers, but they probably at least hoped for such a dividend on their investment. One aspect of the matter I didn’t mention is that the chairman of Pasona is Heizo Takenaka, a former Diet member and cabinet official who remains one of the government’s most trusted economic advisors. He, more than anyone, understands how private enterprise can benefit from getting involved in public enterprises like the Olympics. In that regard, he’s the opposite of a naive idealist, and the perfect Olympic factotum.

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