Media watch: Olympic legacy update

Ariake Arena

One of the supposed benefits of holding the Olympics is the “legacy” it provides for the future. As is almost always the case with the Games, these benefits tend to be understood in economic terms—use of specially built Olympic facilities and attendant profits from Olympic-related goods and resources—that often end up being negative. Much has already been made of the fact that almost all the facilities built for the Olympics, including the new National Stadium, will be a drag on the economy because whatever revenue they bring in from hosting events won’t be enough to cover their maintenance costs. 

So far, of the six facilities specially built for Tokyo 2020 the only one that has any chance of returning a profit is the Ariake Arena on the waterfront. In an August 22 article, Asahi Shimbun reported that the arena, built mainly for volleyball and wheelchair basketball, had finally resumed operations after a year of preparation with a concert by the veteran J-pop trio Perfume. On August 26 it will host the Japan gig for American singer-songwriter Billie Eilish. 

So far so good. In 2017 it was projected that Ariake would make ¥360 million a year, based on a plan that would see the arena, which covers 4,000 square meters and can hold a maximum of 15,000 people, hosting 10 sports competitions a year as well as “other events,” such as concerts. The aim would be to bring in 1.4 million spectators annually. However, Asahi goes on to point out that the arena is located close to two large tower condominium complexes whose management associations have expressed concern about noise and “vibrations” from the facility. The associations have asked the Tokyo government to safeguard the residents’ “safety and comfort,” and are already pointing to illegally parked cars in the vicinity and patrons of the arena trespassing on the complexes’ properties. Likely, these concerns won’t eat into any revenues that the arena could make and which the local government is counting on, but they could lead to legal problems.

However, there’s another, more intangible legacy that’s less talked about but explicit in the literature put out by the International Olympic Committee: the promotion of sports and physical activity among the public in the host city and country. In that regard, the medical research center of the University of Tokyo carried out a study of the effects of the Olympics on Tokyoites’ physical activity over a 14-year period, starting at 7 years before Tokyo won the hosting bid and ending when the Paralympics finished. According to the education blog ReseMom, the study found that there was an increase in physical activity after 2009, but that there was no noticeable change starting in 2014, which was one year after Tokyo won the bid. The university’s report looked into how various activities were promoted in the runup to the Games themselves as well as how existing sports programs took advantage of the hosting job. The study found that there was no appreciable “special” attention given to boosting sports participation in relation to the Olympics by related organizations; and, in fact, no directives or explanations were given by the organizing committee to existing sports organizations to promote greater participation. What the study found particularly perplexing was that there was no concerted scheme in place to connect the watching of sports to participation in sports. Mainichi Shimbun reported something similar when it found that there was no cooperation among various organizations–whether they promoted sports activities or not (like non-athletic sponsors)–that benefited from the Olympics on an individual basis. In other words, in terms of promoting sports and physical activity in Tokyo and Japan, it’s as if the Olympics didn’t even happen. And, in fact, there still seems to be a lot of people who wish that it hadn’t. 

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