x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games a shot in the arm for ageing Japan

Tokyo's triumphant bid to host the 2020 games is giving Japan a chance to revive both its sagging spirits and its stagnating economy.

A vendor hands out free copies of a special newspaper edition printed to mark the announcement of Tokyo as the host of the 2020 Olympic Games.
A vendor hands out free copies of a special newspaper edition printed to mark the announcement of Tokyo as the host of the 2020 Olympic Games.

TOKYO // A half-century after the 1964 Tokyo games heralded Japan's re-emergence from destruction and defeat in the Second World War, the city's triumphant bid to host the 2020 games is giving this ageing nation a chance to revive both its sagging spirits and its stagnating economy.

"In most competitions, if you don't win a gold medal, you can also win maybe a bronze one," the Tokyo governor Naoki Inose told reporters in Buenos Aires after the International Olympic Committee chose his city to host the 2020 summer games. "In this battle, there was only the gold."

Hundreds of Japanese athletes and officials gathered downtown for the early morning announcement shouted "Banzai!", jumping up and down and hugging in unusually demonstrative reactions to the announcement.

The decision suggests IOC members were convinced by the prime minister Shinzo Abe's reassurances that radiation leaks from the nuclear plant wrecked in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster pose no threat to Tokyo or the games.

The 1964 games were relatively bare bones by today's standards.

"There were no facilities, no food to eat; no barbells; no place to practice. That was what it was like," said Yoshinobu Miyake, a featherweight weightlifting gold medallist at the 1964 games who recalls walking the streets of Tokyo with a crooked barbell in hand, looking for a place to practice.

"But still, we had to win - so it was a country that managed to go on with just a hungry spirit, a Japanese spirit," he said.

Japan is counting on the games to boost both the economy and morale. Two decades after its economic ascent was cut short by the bursting of its financial bubble, its population shrinking and rapidly ageing, it can use all the help it can get, said Yukio Takahashi, who was jubilant as he took his morning walk with his wife in a suburban park that was a main 1964 Olympic venue.

"This will help us to not lose confidence," Mr Takahashi said. "It gives us a goal, something to strive for."

Surveys showed 70 per cent of Tokyoites favoured the bid.

Hosting the 2020 games could yield positive economic effects of over 4 trillion yen (Dh150 billion) and create more than 150,000 jobs, according to some estimates, more than half of it new demand for construction, sales of Olympics-related goods and purchases of new televisions and other appliances.

The ultimate economic effect from holding the games varies from city to city. The 2008 games were a strong plus for Beijing, yielding an impressive new airport, subway lines and other welcome infrastructure. London's 2012 games likewise were a boost for the British economy.

But the Bird's Nest stadium, the centrepiece of the 2008 games, stands neglected as a Dh1.84bn souvenir. In Athens, many of the venues from the 2004 Olympics are desolate and weed-infested, and the Greek economy is in crisis.

Although Japan has a national debt amounting to twice the size of its economy, Tokyo itself has a Dh16.52bn "reserve fund" for infrastructure projects for the games. Japan's status as the world's third-biggest economy and its strong links to Olympic sponsors were additional strengths. The huge Asian market was another draw for the IOC.

Such assets outweighed concerns over leaks of radioactive water from the tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. But they also will add to pressures on Tokyo to resolve the crisis.

"We have made promises," Mr Abe said after the decision. "Now we have a responsibility to meet those expectations."