Skip to main content

Tokyo and the Long Game for the Olympics

Date & Time

Jul. 14, 2021
11:00am – 12:00pm ET


Having postponed the Games by a year as a result of the global pandemic, Tokyo will be hosting the Summer Olympics later this month. Although the worst of the spread of COVID may appear to be over in some parts of the world, concerns about the risks of hosting the Games continue to persist. It has also led to discussions worldwide about the future of the Olympic Games and prospects for hosting massive sporting events.

This event discussed how the Olympics have shaped the political dynamics within Japan, and the challenges, as well as opportunities for Japan, becoming the first country to host the Games during a pandemic.  

Selected Quotes

Yuhei Inoue

“[The goals of the Tokyo Games were to](The Tokyo Olympic goal was to)  leave a positive legacy, especially in five areas sports and health promotion… sustainability, culture and education, economy and technologies, and recovery from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. But because of the range of various restrictions that occurred since COVID-19, the ban on foreign tourists, and also the ban on domestic spectators now, the public has become increasingly suspicious of the Game’s ability to meet these objectives.” 

“Even though the Games are approaching--they’ll be held in 9 days--still the primary discussion is about whether or not the Games should go ahead there should be a debate regarding, what are the key lessons that Japan learned from this? COVID-19 and preparation for the Games exposed many of the issues and challenges that are facing Japan, such as ineffective leadership, lack of coordination across different sectors in Japan, and also lack of clear and transparent communication from the government. So Japan is able to learn lessons from this and can improve the country for the future.”

“[The Games] can showcase Japan’s diversity. Japan is increasingly becoming diverse… I think through COVID-19, people in Japan became more exclusive. I think they kind of wanted to close the country from foreigners. It’s not just about Japan but across the world. Just looking at the debate [around diversity and inclusion] in Japan, of course diversity and inclusion are important, but still there’s a tension between… [wanting to] close the country and… [wanting] to open it up and accept foreigners.”

Heather Dichter

"In this time, and this is the 2020 bid, Tokyo promoted Olympic values and really having a sport legacy for Tokyo in Japan, the way that 1964 did. That there would be new venues that would then have this legacy for another 50 years within the city and the country and, like was already mentioned, there was an element of, this bid happened after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and so part of that vision specifically said that Tokyo 2020 was seeking to use the power of sport to offer hope to the Japanese people, and promote national spirit, unity and confidence. "

Watch Clip

“Viewing the Olympics now in the present, it does seem like geopolitics may appear to be having a greater pull or influence on decisions that are being made. Particularly because, with the delay of Tokyo, the Beijing Games are only 7 months after the Tokyo Olympics, which is a really short amount of time. But the reality is that a lot of the decisions that Japan is making are being made based on domestic situations and issues, as well as international support.”

“The boycotts we saw of the athletes, the countries boycotting and not sending the athletes… What I think we’re hearing now is more of a political boycott, that recognizes that athletes were the biggest losers in 1980 and 1984, because most athletes never get the opportunity to become an Olympian, and most Olympians only ever compete at one Olympics… so the athletes are the biggest losers in those boycott situations. What seems to be discussed more recently is this idea of a political boycott. We will not send any of our country’s diplomats or political leaders to be there, which is always one of the power elements of hosting the games.”

Professor Jules Boykoff 

"I think it’s important to go back to that moment in 2013, when Shinzo Abe stood in front of the International Olympic Committee as they prepare to cast their votes, and he was asked about what was going on in Fukushima. After all, they had only recently experienced the triple whammy—earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown—and so he was asked about that: Will this affect the Tokyo Olympics in any way? And at the time, the prime minister said everything was 'under control.' Well, if you actually went to Fukushima at that time, you would know that things were absolutely not 'under control.' I traveled there in July 2019, where I met with everyday people on the streets, elected officials in the area, journalists that were there, and they said that, even in 2019, things were not 'under control.' And so that was one of the foundational issues, a mistruth, if you will, on the part of Mr. Abe. The second mistruth, which forms the foundation of Tokyo 2020, is the fact that they call it a 'recovery games,' as we've heard. In fact, I interviewed numerous people, including professors in Japan, who have argued that in fact hosting the Olympics in Tokyo diverted precious resources from the affected areas from that triple whammy disaster, and instead diverted them to Tokyo to help get prepared for the Olympic Games."

Watch Clip

"Really from the beginning, the Tokyo Olympics has been a cascade of calamities. It has been erased partly by the fact that we’ve been so focused, and rightly so, on the COVID situation and how that affects the Olympics. But there have been engrained problems that we’ve seen in Tokyo that aren't even so much Tokyo problems as they are Olympic problems. And so one of the arguments I want to make today is that if you set aside the COVID moment, which is of course incredibly difficult to do, and you look at the bigger picture of Tokyo, what you see is Tokyo essentially—in agreeing to host the Olympic Games—also agree to import a number of olympic problems into their city.”

“Even if Tokyo doesn’t follow through on its promises with sustainability because coronavirus came up, even if Tokyo uses wood that’s illegally sourced from different places around the world, it’s not necessarily so much a Tokyo problem as it is an Olympic problem… This is almost like a time-worn tradition—green washing.” 

"I think right now the question of can we have an actually sustainable Olympics where you have people traveling from all around the world in their jets and so on, is a really difficult challenge. Especially in this moment when the games have become so gigantic, what scholars referred to as 'gigantism' around the Olympics. More than 11,000 athletes will be in Tokyo for the Summer Games. I think it’s a very difficult call to have that happy-day-in-the-sun Olympics that I think a lot of people crave, because the Games are so big.” 


Jules Boykoff

Professor and Politics & Government Chair, Pacific University

Heather Dichter

Associate Professor, De Montfort University School of Humanities

Yuhei Inoue

Reader, Sports Management, Manchester Metropolitan University Business School

Hosted By

Indo-Pacific Program

The Indo-Pacific Program promotes policy debate and intellectual discussions on US interests in the Asia-Pacific as well as political, economic, security, and social issues relating to the world’s most populous and economically dynamic region.   Read more

Thank you for your interest in this event. Please send any feedback or questions to our Events staff.