With the Olympic Games returning to Tokyo in 2020, Jack Gallagher, the Executive Sports Editor of the Japan Times, looks for the Olympic Review at what the decision means to the 1964 host city and what fans and athletes can look forward to in 2020.
There were celebrations across the nation in September, when outgoing IOC President Jacques Rogge announced Tokyo as the winner of the vote to host the 2020 Olympic Games. The news arrived in the early morning hours in Japan, but was quickly seized by the media as a watershed event. Television stations covered the decision with live programmes throughout the day and newspapers printed extra editions to spread the word around the capital city, as those at public viewings openly rejoiced.
There was a buzz around town for days afterward, as the older generation recalled memories of 1964, which also hailed the arrival of the first Bullet Train, and youngsters dreamed of representing the Hinomaru (Japanese flag) in the sporting extravaganza seven years from now.
Tokyo’s victory over Istanbul in the final round of voting (by 60 votes to 36) was the culmination of years of intense planning and work on the part of the Tokyo 2020 bid team, led by Japan Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda and bid CEO Masato Mizuno. The triumph came after Nagoya (seeking the 1998 Games), Osaka (2008) and Tokyo (2016) had all come up short in previous bids for the Summer Games. Japan, which in addition to hosting the 1964 Olympic Games has also twice hosted the Winter Games (Sapporo in 1972 and Nagano in 1998), prevailed with the theme of “Discover Tomorrow”.
One of the strong points of Tokyo’s bid was its compactness, which will see approximately 75 per cent of the sports venues located within 8km of the Olympic Village on the Harumi waterfront area of Tokyo Bay. Twenty-two of the 37 venues will be constructed specifically for the 2020 Games. Though the great majority of the events will be held in Tokyo, the football tournament will see matches played in Yokohama, Saitama, Sapporo and Rifu, Miyagi Prefecture. Additionally, some venues from the 1964 Games will see action again in 2020. Tokyo’s National Stadium, which hosted the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and athletics competition in 1964, will be completely refurbished and replaced by an arena with a retractable roof that will seat 80,000 spectators. The new venue will be completed by 2019 and will be the site of the Rugby World Cup final the same year.
The 2020 Games, which will run from 24 July to 9 August, are seen as a chance to help Japan re-establish itself as a player in the world of global business. The Japanese economy has struggled for nearly two decades, and it is hoped that the return of the Olympic Games will help spark a revival through renewed infrastructure and boosts in tourism, as well as providing many other long-term benefits.
Japan has been the site of many major sporting events over the past 50 years, including when it co-hosted the 2002 Football World Cup with the Republic of Korea, but will face a formidable challenge when it welcomes the world in seven years.
“We are confident our Japanese friends will be able to provide excellent Games. They are the safe pair of hands they describe,” said Rogge. “They will provide secure Games, well organised with the welfare of the athletes in mind. I’m quite sure Tokyo 2020 will put the athletes at the centre of the Games.”
Japan’s final presentation to the IOC membership included an eloquent opening speech by Princess Takamado and also featured Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Takeda and Mizuno. A moving tribute by Paralympic long jumper Mami Sato about how sport had saved her from despair after she lost her leg to cancer appeared to really resonate.
“My heart was pumping (before the announcement) and I am so happy,” Abe told Kyodo News after Tokyo’s victory. “We will respond to the expectations and support by holding a successful Olympic Games. I think we conveyed the message that we can hold a safe Games.”
Mizuno cited how the Games can be a positive catalyst for change when he spoke to the Foreign Sportwriters Association of Japan in Tokyo in June 2011. “We promote the Olympic values – excellence, friendship and respect,” he said. “Especially we are saying, 2020 is not the goal for us, but beyond 2020 we can make a wonderful society. So we would like to demonstrate the power of sports. We believe in the power of sports.”
Takeda, who participated as an equestrian in the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich and the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, reflected the feelings of many in his country when asked to comment following Tokyo’s selection. “I have waited so many years to experience this joy,” he stated. “It is an honour to be elected as the host city.”
Takeda acknowledges that though the race to win the bid was long and arduous, now the real work truly begins: “The Olympic Family has put its faith in our great city to deliver the memorable Games we have promised, and we will not let them down,” he said in a statement. “Without doubt, this will be a memorable event for the every member of the Olympic family, every athlete and every spectator.
“Tokyo is eager to begin to put in place our plans for the 2020 Olympic Games. Tokyo 2020 will be a superb occasion in the very heart of our dynamic capital city. We take on this immense responsibility both humbly and seriously, and will work hard over the next seven years to organise and host what is sure to be the world’s greatest event in 2020.”