Samurai Surfing

My friends know this: I’m addicted to Nissin Cup Ramen.

There’s something about the aroma after I’ve waited that obligatory 3-minutes for the hot water to soften the noodles and bind the various spices and ingredients in a flavor that instantly gratifies me. This is not a universal addiction to Cup Noodle. It has to be made in Japan – the ones manufactured elsewhere are probably catering to local tastes, and to my palate, pale in comparison.

I don’t believe they manufacture the King Size version anymore, but if they did, I’d buy.

Nissin Cup Ramen also tends to have the coolest commercials. One released in November, 2016 is not only super fun, it is appealing to the same demographic the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are trying to appeal to. In a somewhat tenuous take on The Seven Samurai, Nissin created a commercial that features athletes decked out in traditional armour that the West now associate with the warrior class known as the samurai.

And the seven featured in this commercial are magnificent! They surf, they skateboard, they pogo-stick over street vendors, they spin on their bikes, do acrobatic twists on skis to the amazement of the bewildered crows around them.

Over the decades, the IOC has worked with host countries to appeal to the youth, and ensure a market for their product for years to come. The X-Games, an ESPN-sponsored event featuring extreme sports, drove up the popularity of skateboarding and freestyle motocross. Thanks to growing popularity of these youth-driven activities, snowboarding became an Olympic sport in 1998, while BMX cycling debuted at the 2008 Olympics.

Tokyo 2020 will feature a bevy of new competitions that the organizers hope will build a new generation of Olympic fans, including surfing, skateboarding, and sports climbing.

Samura bike tricks

Alex Ovechkin at the Sochi Olympics
Alex Ovechkin at the Sochi Olympics

For the hottest game on ice, the players and owners have entered into a cold war of sorts. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman recently told the press that no meetings have been arranged with the International Olympic Committee regarding the possibility of NHL players competing in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in early 2018.

The NHL schedule and the Winter Olympics schedule overlap every four years. In order to convince he NHL to release its players in the middle of the NHL hockey season, the IOC agreed to pay for the insurance, travel and accommodation of these professional hockey players. The insurance is a key component because it protects the NHL teams against an injury to a star player who could impact team success and/or team revenue for years to come. For the Sochi Olympics in 2014, the IOC sent some USD7 million to the NHL, something the IOC does not do for other sports leagues. The IOC has done so for the past five Winter Olympics since the 1998 Nagano Olympics, but this year the IOC announced they would not pay the NHL for players to come.

Bettman stated that without IOC financial support, it’s unlikely the owners would support. “We don’t make money going [to the Olympics]. I can’t imagine the NHL owners are going to pay for the privilege of shutting down for 17 days. I just don’t see that.”

However, the star players in the NHL view the Winter Olympics as a matter of prestige and pride. The very best players like Canadian Sydney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Russian Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals have said they intend to go, Ovechkin going as far to say he would go without the NHL’s permission. And as mentioned in this Ottawa Citizen article, the owners will listen to their stars.

When Alex Ovechkin said he was going to the Olympics, with or without the NHL’s blessing, it didn’t take long for Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis to stand behind his star. And why wouldn’t he? Ovechkin is the face of the team. He not only helps the team win games, he puts fans in seats.

Major League Baseball stands in contrast to the NHL. Currently, the World Baseball Classic, an international baseball championship series taking place in March, 2017, has the full commitment and support of MLB. And while the major league players from big-time baseball nations of Japan, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Korea are heavily involved in the World Baseball Classic, Team USA is bereft of its stars. In contrast to the NHL players, the Americans have little to no interest in participating.

Now, the World Baseball Classic is not the same at the Olympics. And when baseball returns to the Olympics in 2020 in Tokyo, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred will likely want to ensure his league’s best players are at the Summer Games. Growing the international market for baseball will be a big priority for Manfred. But he has yet to gain consensus with team owners on how to make it work for the MLB when the Olympics will take place in the middle of the 2020 MLB season. Injuries and lost revenue to lost games will certainly be in the minds of the owners.

Rob Manfred MLB Commissioner
Rob Manfred MLB Commissioner

According to this Sports Illustrated article, there are two possible options to make it work: allow the season to continue without interruption, and just free up the players selected to their respective national teams, or shut down the MLB season for, say two-and-a-half weeks, like the NHL has done in the past.

The NBA, on the other, other hand, has had the distinct advantage of holding a primarily Fall-Winter-Spring season, while the Olympics tend to fall in the summer, the basketball off season. Traditionally, the NBA has promoted its brand and players globally, and have been a model for building a global business. Their commitment to the Olympics is thus considerable. The issue has been ensuring that the richest and greatest athletes in the world stay motivated enough to train and risk injury during their time off.

The US men’s team took bronze at the 2004 Athens Olympics, and were dubbed “The Nightmare Team”. It didn’t bode well when the superstars of the league, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Kevin Garnett begged off of the team, and Ray Allen and Jason Kidd were out with injuries.

After the team’s embarrassing finish in Athens, Team USA appointed Jerry Colangelo to take charge of team selection. His job was to persuade the NBA’s best American players that it was their duty to restore pride and glory to men’s basketball in the international arena.

Colangelo convinced such stars as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade not only to join Team USA for the 2008 Seoul Olympics, he got them to commit to playing together for three years leading up to the Olympics. Under Colangelo’s leadership and the coaching of Mike Krzyzewski, Team USA dominated at the 2008 Seoul Olympics to easily win gold. They’ve done so ever since.

Summary:

  • NHL: League and Owners not committed; Players committed
  • MLB: League committed; Owners not yet committed; American players not committed, but world players committed
  • NBA: League committed; Owners committed; Players committed

 

Muirfield Golf Club
Muirfield Golf Club

 

The oldest golf club in the world, Muirfield Golf Club, located in Scotland, the birthplace of golf, recently decided to provide women the opportunity to have equal membership with male members. It took 273 years, but as Virginia Slims once proclaimed, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

This change in policy came after the famed golf club was denied the chance to host the British Open golf championship because of its membership rules. Other clubs like R&A, The Royal St George’s and Royal Troon in Scotland, Augusta National in the USA, and most recently the Royal Adelaide Golf Club in Australia have changed their membership policies to allow for full membership to women.

But the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Saitama, not far from Tokyo, has stuck to its guns despite significant pressure to offer equal membership rights to women. Currently, female members of the Kasumigaseki C. C. are not considered full members, and are not allowed to play on Sundays. Ordinarily, this particular policy would go unnoticed if not for the fact that Kasumigaseki C. C. was selected to be the Olympic venue for golf during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike fired the first salvo in January when she said she felt “very uncomfortable that women cannot become full members in the 21st century.”

More recently, International Olympic Committee Vice President, John Coates, said that “Image-wise, our position is clear. We will only go to a club that has non-discrimination.”

Coates went on to reveal that discussions with the Kasumigaseki Country Club have been positive, and that “It’s heading in the right direction for them to have a nondiscriminatory membership procedure. It would appear that we should be able to have this result by the end of June.”

So will Kasumigaseki Country Club end up par for the course, or will they shank their last drive and lose out on this golden opportunity at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics?

 

UPDATE: On March 20, 2017, the 15 board members of the Kasumigaseki Golf Club, all men, voted unanimously to overturn restrictions on full membership for women.

 

Next Big Pivot 2_Yuko Mitsuya
Yuko Mitsuya at The Next Big Pivot Charity Dinner 2017

 

“I’m tall, so I played volleyball. It was never a dream or a passion.”

It’s not what you’d expect to hear from an Olympian. But that’s how Yuko Mitsuya, member of the Japan woman’s volleyball team that took bronze at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, started off her speech at a charity event on February 23, 2016.

“I didn’t really like how tall I was. Volleyball was the only way to deal with this.”

One imagines someone who succeeds at the highest levels would be filled with passion for their accomplishment. But the 177 cm tall woman from Katsuyama, Fukui, was ever humble in a talk that was inspirational. Mitsuya was speaking at an event called “The Next Big Pivot Charity Dinner 2017” in Tokyo, raising funds to provide young Japanese women with an opportunity to learn about leadership in the sports industry. Last year, five women went to New York City to participate in a program called Future Frontwomen, which gave them in-depth exposure to how the NBA is run and how sports can be managed as business.

Those five women were present to hear Mitsuya explain that the path to success is not just fueled by passion, it is one of hard work, persistence and learning. Mitsuya, currently the chairperson of the Japan Basketball Association and the former CEO of a lingerie manufacturer, explained that she made the team because she was tall, but in her early junior high school days, she wasn’t very good. She worked at it, got better, and was able to contribute.

 

Next Big Pivot 1
Mie Kajikawa and the Future Frontwomen

 

I wasn’t that good. I was really a problem to the team. I hated it, but this was all I could do. Over time I got better, and more confident. I realized that becoming good at something was not a matter of whether I liked it or not. It mattered whether I practiced. And I practiced every day, and learned. I tried very hard and eventually got recognized as the best junior high school women’s volleyball player in Fukui.

Her one big lesson for young women in Japan (and perhaps for anybody who desires to achieve) is that no matter how good you are, there’s always another level up. She succeeded as a volleyball player in junior high school in Fukui, but when she moved to Tokyo for high school, she realized that she still had a lot to learn.

I thought I was good, until I got to this next level. And I lost confidence. But my friends supported me and helped me recover my confidence as I improved. And that’s what’s important – always stepping up, going another level up. There is always an opportunity to rise up further. You do well and you get to the top, and you realize, there’s another level to climb. As I got used to achieving and stepping up, I could always improve. For women, young women, I believe there are lots of chances to step up. You shouldn’t let your pride get in the way, worrying whether you will achieve or not. You need to understand that getting to a certain level means re-setting your mindset and your goals, so that you climb to the next level.

Prior to Mitsuya’s retirement, the only life she had known was volleyball. But she took it to the next level by transitioning to teaching at the high school and university level. Three years after participating in CSR activities with the leadership of a lingerie company called Ten Arrows, she was named CEO of that company. That was a big step up.

 

Mitsuya Yuko 1
Yuko Mitsuya in 1984

When I became a company CEO, a lot of people said I was hired just because I’m a well-known person. But I want young women to realize that specialization in one area does not mean that you cannot do something else. You need to challenge yourself and try different things because there are common skills you can use in other types of work. Based on my experience in volleyball, I learned how to motivate people (which is important for company leaders). I learned another important lesson from sports, which is also important in companies: resilience. I encourage people to challenge themselves because you need the experience of overcoming issues. And if you fail, well, through failure you grow. More importantly, if you do not challenge yourself, you may regret not making the attempt.

 

Mie Kajikawa understands this. Kajikawa was first a basketball player at Nagoya University. She worked in sales for the Japan Travel Bureau in Nagoya, studied French in France for a month, spent a few years doing secretarial work for executives in foreign financial services firms in Tokyo until she realized what she wanted to do – study sports management in the United States. During her master’s program at Ohio University, she had a career-defining experience – an internship with the Detroit Pistons.

From that point on, the doors to NBA officials or relevant sports industry players, as well as sports associations in Japan opened up. Kajikawa went on to participate in Tokyo’s bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics (which eventually went to Rio), and founded the company, Cheer Blossom, Inc., which provides consultation in CSR to Japan’s professional basketball league – B. League. And when she established the non-profit organization, Next Big Pivot, she became a significant player not only in promoting the empowerment of women in sports business, but also advocating for the development of basketball in Japan.

If you are interested in learning more about Next Big Pivot and Kajikawa’s plans, click here.

cigarettes-in-ashtray

2020 is such a round number, intuitively connected to 20:20 vision, and thus an easy deadline for lofty organizational and national goals, at least for another year at most.

One such goal is the Health Ministry of Japan’s drive to ban smoking in Japan, in time before the spotlight is cast on Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics. Clearly, evidence regarding the health effects of smoking, as well as effects on non-smokers via second-hand smoke is too compelling today to ignore.

And since the Olympics have an agenda that bidding countries need to sign on to, there will be a strong attempt for Japan to honor the Tobacco Free Initiative co-sponsored by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Their goal is to keep non-smokers away from the dangers of second-hand smoke, and even get all smokers to quit.

But ensuring all Olympic venues are tobacco free, which also means tobacco-promotion free, is a challenge. It’s an Olympian challenge.

First, Asia is still a smoker’s paradise, sales booming in places like China and Indonesia. And while smoking has dropped significantly in Japan (for men from 80% in the 1960s to about 30% today), there is significant resistance to the banning of smoking in public places.

According to this Japan Times article, the Health Ministry is recommending that all restaurants, bars and clubs either ban smoking or install special enclosed areas for smokers, at the risk of heavy fines. Currently, the law only asks businesses to make efforts while imposing no penalties for non-compliance, according to this article. Apparently those ideas are getting significant push back from the restaurant industry, particularly the smaller businesses. Thus the Health Ministry is working on compromises that will still allow smoking for places that are 30 square meters in size or less, as long as they clearly explain that in signage and properly ventilate.

In other words, short-term revenue and the survival of small business is more important than the long-term health implications of people who do not smoke.

That may sound harsh to the ears of health idealists around the world, but the truth of the matter is, the IOC and WHO have had challenges getting comprehensive compliance to their Smoke Free Initiative.

 

cigarettes-beijing-olympics
FreakingNews.com

 

In this recent study of the impact of the Tobacco Free Policy, entitled “Smoke Rings: Towards a Comprehensive Tobacco Free Policy for the Olympic Games“, it appears that reaching the goals of this policy are difficult.

For example, the goal of keeping all Olympic venues smoke free has been labeled “unrealistic and unreasonable.” Apparently at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, according to the study, foreign visitor unused to the strictness of these measures led the Vancouver Olympic Committee to ease up on the policy.

Smoking areas were subsequently permitted on all Olympic sites including the athletes village and sporting venues.

It was a challenge to implement that ban at the 2012 London Olympics as well.

As well as being unaware of the IOC policy, officials found LOCOG staff believed tobacco use was a “personal choice” and thus unsupportive of strong tobacco control. The election of a coalition government in the UK in 2010, and disbanding of the London Regional Tobacco Control Team amid public sector cuts, further weakened commitment. The London games were eventually designated as smoke-free with “discrete smoking areas”.

The policy states that tobacco sponsorship related to the Olympics is not allowed. And yet, that has proven difficult to police, particularly in Asia, according to the study.

It is perhaps in Asia that tobacco sponsorship of Olympic athletes and teams has been most active. When two Filipino athletes won medals at the 1988 Seoul Summer Games, they were rewarded prize money by the Philippines’ Tobacco Fortune Corp. In 1991, the Sports Authority of Thailand and Thai National Olympic Committee pressed the government to lift restrictions on tobacco sponsorship. While acknowledging that it was “illegal for us to be involved” in sponsorship, BAT subsidiary Singapore Tobacco Company (STC) described its use of “a primary sponsor as a cover” to channel funding, admitting “it needs careful handling… The politics are complex–but things are possible”.

At the 1964 Olympics, Japan was tobacco heaven, and the marketing of cigarettes at the 1964 Olympics may be contributing to the current peak in lung cancer deaths over the past two decades, as I wrote about here. But to be honest, I am a non-smoker, and the attitude towards smoking has changed, and the number of smokers in public areas has decreased since the time I first arrived in 1986.

I remember in the 1980s the ball-like metal ashtrays on the train platforms of the Yamanote Line in the mornings, filled with cigarette butts, spewing poison into the air like the Gates of Hell. Today, those are long gone.

The ban may not be total by 2020. But fewer people will be smoking in public. Progress is definitely being made.

nocs-visit-tokyo_february2017
Representatives of various National Olympic Committees are given tours of 26 Olympic venues, including Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo on Monday. | PHOTO COURTESY OF TOKYO 2020 / UTA MUKUO / VIA KYODO
When you think about the number of events in an Olympic Games, and the varied types and sizes of venues required for a mega-sports event like the Olympics, one wonders why we would saddle an emerging economy with such a beast of a logistics and budget burden. Sochi, Rio and Athens are recent examples of this challenge.

While Japan was an emerging economy in 1964, its economy was booming and could absorb the massive change and cost with ease. And when we look at the Paris and Los Angeles bids for 2024, one gets the sense that they are at an advantage due to their already massive and modern infrastructure along with its varied and numerous sports facilities packed into their metropolitan areas.

Tokyo has that advantage as well and was able to propose in its bid that 90 percent of the sports venues would be within 8 kilometers of the Olympic Village. Tokyo2020 has framed the physical footprint in an infinity loop which encloses two areas: the Heritage Zone and the Tokyo Bay Zone. The Heritage Zone represents facilities that are in and around the area of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the Shinjuku – Yoyogi area. That would include the location of the National Stadium, both then and in 2020. The Tokyo Bay Zone is primarily reclaimed land about 3.2 km southeast of central Tokyo. This will include the site of the Olympic Village in Harumi.

On February 10, the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee hosted visitors from the National Olympic Committees from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and New Zealand. For three days they got a guided tour of 26 of the approximately 40 venues planned for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. And the reviews, apparently, are good.

infinity-heritage-and-tokyo-bay-area-zones
Heritage and Tokyo Bay Zones
Here are a few comments from Luke Pelligrini, the acting general manager of games support and operations for the Australian Olympic Committee:

  • Across all the NOCs in the bus yesterday, everyone was saying this is going to be a good games. Everyone is confident that it’s on track, ahead of the game at the moment and will continue to be.
  • (Some of the venues) looked like they could run sporting events next week. The taekwondo and fencing venue (Makuhari Messe in Chiba Prefecture) literally looked like it could stage sporting events next week if it needed to. The 1964 stadiums for table tennis, the water polo, they look ready to go now. In that respect, we are thrilled. We don’t see anything, 3½ years out, that is a concern to us. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the experience
  • The most impressive thing is how central 70 percent of the venues are. We were amazed at the location of the Olympic village literally being downtown. That is a fantastic opportunity for our athletes to experience the games and also Tokyo. It is a very central location to get to the venues for all our athletes.

Here is a great video explaining the venue locations planned for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

phones
There be gold in them thar phones!

If you’re living in Japan, and you buy smartphones like you buy a fashionable spring jacket, then you’ve got a bunch of phones in your cabinet that are just gathering dust.

Tokyo2020 wants your phone! Starting April, Japan telecommunications conglomerate, NTT Docomo, will set up collection boxes in over 2,400 NTT Docomo stores across Japan. Additionally, the Japan Environmental Sanitation Center, will also set up collection centers to collect old PCs, tablets, wearables, monitors, and other electronic devices that can be mined for metals.

The goal is to collect 8 tons of metal, which will yield 2 tons of gold, silver and bronze, and eventually result in the production of 5,000 medals for winners in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Said Japanese gymnast Kohei Uchimura of this initiative, “computers and smart phones have become useful tools. However, I think it is wasteful to discard devices every time there is a technological advance and new models appear. Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic medals will be made out of people’s thoughts and appreciation for avoiding waste. I think there is an important message in this for future generations.”

Sustainability will be a key theme of Tokyo2020. And my hope and expectation is that Tokyo2020 will be a shining model of how to present the Olympics, as it was in 1964. Tokyo2020 will stand in stark contrast to past Olympics.

For example, there are already signs of decay in Rio de Janeiro as venues used for the 2016 Rio Olympics have been abandoned. This is an oft-told tale, with plenty of photographic evidence of waste from past Olympics. Only six months later, the main venue for the Rio Olympics is an empty, pilfered and unused shell of a stadium.

The IOC knows its reputation and perhaps its long-term survival are dependent upon making the Olympics more in line with the host country’s economic plans and means, and more conscious of its obligations to be more socially tolerant and more purposeful in driving sustainability.

kohei-uchimura_gold-medal_rio_ap
Kohei Uchimura’s next gold medal might be made from recycled smartphones

Since its inception in 2014, IOC President, Thomas Bach, has driven home the 40 tenets of his vision – The Olympic 2020 Agenda – a list of priorities, principles and actions that will guide the IOC in the coming years. Some of the hopes is to help ensure that host cities do not end up with an overly burdensome budget to hold the Games, to make the bidding process less complicated and less expensive, to ensure non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and to drive greater sustainability.

The IOC has been working closely with Tokyo2020 to bring its operational budget down from USD30 billion, which is four times the budget put forth in the 2013 bid for 2020. The current goal is to get the budget down to under USD20 billion, which is far under Sochi’s USD50 billion spend, Beijing’s USD40 billion spend, and more in line with London’s USD20 billion spend. I believe that Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is making an honest attempt to drive the budget down, as well as create a legacy of sustainability and inclusiveness in Japan.

If you’re in Japan, you too can help! Look for your old smartphones, and the signs at NTT Docomo. Donate a phone, and ensure that a piece of your property becomes a piece of the winning medal for Olympians in 2020.