Why it is Important for Japan to hold Olympic Games 2021
Dr Anil Rawat

Had it not been for the COVID-19 and Abe Shizo’s ill health, Tokyo Olympic 20201 would have been a crowning glory on the political career of modern Japan’s most consequential Prime Minister. Alas! That was not to be. Showcasing Japan as the world’s great ‘Soft Power’ on global scale was the dream of Abe Shinzo ever since he won at ‘Rio 2016’ the rights to organize Olympic 2020 in Tokyo. Remembering 1964, the golden 60s, Japan went ecstatic about the decision. Now, with 83% of the Japanese public opinion voting against holding Olympic 2020 coupled with the warning by the Japanese scientists about the fear of this event triggering further spread of Corona Virus2 it would have been quite logical for a democratic government to cancel the games in deference to the public opinion. But nay! There are larger objectives on Japan’s global diplomatic chessboard. Any talk of cancellation of ‘Olympic 2020’ would remind the world about the cancellation of 1940 Olympic games, scheduled to be held in Tokyo, not due to any pandemic threat but because of the raging Sino-Japanese War, prelude to Japan’s horrendous experiences, the event that Japan would like the world to forget about. Japanese wouldn’t like another Sandra Collins writing another book about “Missing Olympics”3
Ever since the first Olympics played in 1896 in the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, Greece, the Olympics have come a long way. Until the end of 20th century Olympic Games remained largely centred in Euro-Atlantic hemisphere as symbol of opulence, culture, social well being, and the capitalist spirit of creative competitiveness. Now people in those countries consider Olympics as waste of tax-payers’ money and question the environmental and social costs of creating white elephants in their cities in the form of infrastructure. It is evident from the fact that in 2016 countries like Germany, Norway, Poland etc. thought it wise to withdraw from the Olympic bid. In the 21st century with 2008 Olympics in Beijing, 2018 games in Korea, 2020 in Japan and 2022 (Winter Olympics) in Beijing, Asia is becoming the global arena for sports activity.

With the rise of Asia-Pacific economies (now rightly called the Indo-Pacific) geography of Olympics is shifting to Asia and along with this the values associated with this greatest show on earth. While most professionals associated with sports, including even the politicians often repudiate the link between politics and sports in favour of neutrality, sportsmanship, and meritocracy, yet many, claiming to be realists, argue that sports and politics are truly indivisible. In the western countries which are over saturated in terms of physical infrastructure Olympics are viewed as reckless expenditure of taxpayers’ money. But in Asia which has the need and scope for the development of physical infrastructure Olympics are a great opportunity to modernise and build new infrastructure. It is an occasion to show case to its own people and the world the level of progress achieved by the nation.

Technological Eminence

However, in Japan’s case it is neither a matter of infrastructure nor a question of reckless expenditure. Japan’s infrastructure is far superior to any western country. Instead of opposing, Japanese were ecstatic when Tokyo was selected for 2020 Olympics and the people have willingly allowed their government to risk $ 40 billion for this show on earth in spite of their difficulties during the “lost two decades”. Their current opposition is related only to the fears of COVID-19. With the ban on the spectators, Japan is unlikely to get a return of even one yen. But for Japan, neither the ROI (return on investment) in terms of Yen nor infrastructure is any issue. These are too minor in face of Japan’s grand vision for humanity and securing its role in world community. Few short term and intermediate concerns may be there. In 2008 Beijing had show-cased its captivating technological miracle, is once again poised to hold the show in 2022 Winter Olympics; Korea and had done that in 2018. Japan wouldn’t like to be left out of this emerging Asian firmament of technological excellence.

As the share of manufactured goods decline in export value Japan is focusing on high technology exports in the near future. Notwithstanding slight decline last year, Japan is already a net exporter of high technology albeit with a small share in global technology trade.

Japan’s Vision for Future

A look at ‘Japan’s Vision 2050”4 prepared in the year 2005 would give us an idea where Japan is headed. The year 2020 was chosen, even when the Olympics were not announced, as the year of mid-point review of the progress that the country has made towards its goals. With its robust entry into the digital economy, industrial restructuring driven by “Abenomics” and its technological fusion-based innovation culture Japan has certainly built a solid base in digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning, quantum computing, new materials and their application for the benefit of society.

Olympic skeptics are arguing whether Japan will be able to derive any advantage comparable to what it could have gained if the games had taken place in normal situation. The government, the chief sponsor of the games perhaps is of the view that except for the short-term economic gains Japan will be able to reap almost all the advantages. Japan will employ its entire technological prowess at the opening and closing ceremonies in an attempt to surpass what the world witnessed at Beijing in 2008. Even if there are no spectators in the Olympic village, the spectacle will be watched by millions of people around the world through digital media. The spectacle will occupy the centre stage of media discussions the world over for several months to come. The world will also watch the marvel of its fast infrastructure, high technology application in daily lives of the people. Show of such applications will help enhance global trust in Japan’s technological capability, an essential ingredient to secure technology export markets. Normally, Japanese do not like to develop technology without its pre-conceived utility.

Lot more is at stake for the ruling LDP and personally for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in the successful conclusion of the games. Confident of Japan’s ability in crisis management and efficiency the Government seems fairly positive. The success in this venture, with containment of COVID-19, will surely enhance Government’s reputation and benefit the ruling party in the coming elections. It is personally important for Prime Minister Suga. This is the first major event of global proportions in the Reiwa Era (meaning “beautiful harmony”) that he himself launched on May 1, 2019. He would not like “failure” to be written in the first year of the Reiwa Era of which he is the First Prime Minister. Successful conclusion of games will also reinvigorate the national morale which has been hit by a series of crises since 1990s.

Civilisational Goals

Japan’s stated objective for organising the Olympics even at the cost of $40 billion and the prevailing pandemic fear is to meet its commitment to the global community. This is very important for Japan at this point. The idea of Indo-Pacific that Japan has been advancing steadfastly is anchored on the commitment to rule of international law. Continuing to host the Olympics 2021 even in such adverse conditions Japan is demonstrating to the world community its commitments to fulfill international obligations no matter what it costs. 5

Concerned about the environmental degradation and the climate change Japan has adopted a Green Growth Strategy and declared Japan to become fully carbon free by 2050. Therefore, development of sustainable technologies such as hydrogen energy, algae powered vehicles, new materials that it would like to showcase in actual operation. Hydrogen now is on the cusp of adoption for a range of applications, including fueling passenger cars, power-generation turbines, steelmaking, heavy-duty vehicles, and ships. For the first time in history the Olympic Torch will be lit by hydrogen. Japan’s ultimate goal is to assume the status of an autonomous centre of new civilisation based on peace, freedom, democracy, harmony, sustainable living underpinned by smart technologies.6

  1. Although the Olympics Games are being held in 2021 due to COVID-19 the official designation still remains Olympics 2020.
  2. Dennis Normile. ‘Japanese scientists warn that Tokyo Olympics could help spread COVID-19’. Science. 9 June 2021.
  3. Sandra Collins, The 1940 Tokyo Games: The Missing Olympics Japan, the Asian Olympics and the Olympic Movement. Routledge. 2008
    Japan Vision 2050: Principles of Strategic Science and Technology Policy Toward 2020
  4. .

  5. Science Council of Japan. April 2005
  6. Knoema. https://knoema.com/atlas/Japan/High-technology-exports
  7. A Modi-Abe joint vision 2025 signed in India also speaks about these features of new civilization.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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