thomas-bach-and-yuriko-koike
Thomas Bach and Yuriko Koike

There has been a backlash against the Olympics. Public support of hosting an Olympic Games has dropped as cities like Rome, Hamburg and Boston ceased their bids for the 2024 Games.

Sochi cost USD50 billion, Beijing USD40 billion. At USD15 billion, the cost of the Athens Olympics put significant pressure on the Greek economy, and likely contributed to that country’s government debt crisis. This is a public burden a lot of cities and countries are no longer willing to accept.

In late September, an expert panel established by the Tokyo Metropolitan government released their report re-examining the costs of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. Their estimate – the total cost of Tokyo 2020 could balloon to JPY3 trillion, or about USD30 billion. The original budget set at bid submission: about one fourth of that.

The new governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, campaigned on the premise that she would rein in the costs of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. A few weeks after becoming governor, she vowed to do what it took to bring down costs.

Before I became governor, there must have been certain procedures that went into the cost calculations and I would like to speak to 2020 organizers and the national government about that. I will not leave white elephants to the taxpayers. I will leave a good legacy. That is the direction I want to see the games take.

And already, Koike is looking at changes of venues of certain sports in order to whittle away at costs.

The first suggestion from Governor Koike is to use a different venue for canoeing and rowing. The current plan approved by the IOC is to develop the Sea Forest Water Sports Center, two land-fill islands located in Tokyo Bay, right next to the Tokyo Gate Bridge. One of the islands would be developed to host equestrian events. The other island would be used for the mountain bike course. The water way in between the two islands would be the raceways for rowing and canoeing.

sea-forest
Illustration of what the Sea Forest Sports Center would look like in 2020.

But because cost estimates for the Sea Forest venues reported to have climbed significantly, Koike has been looking into moving the rowing and canoeing events to the Naganuma Boat Park in Tome, which is in Miyagi Prefecture. This move is being considered not only to decrease costs, but also highlight the reconstruction efforts in the area since the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011.

To the chagrin of Tokyo2020, the IOC, and the various rowing and canoeing federations, Tome is 400 kilometers from Tokyo.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president, Thomas Bach, has been working with all parties to get to a mutually agreed state. According to this article, he is reluctant to agree to plans where athletes do not come first in the decision making process, which could mean he prefers not to move the canoeing and rowing events to the Northern part of Japan.

Bach instead recommended that a four-party panel, which includes the IOC, The Tokyo Games Organizing committee, Tokyo and Japanese government representatives. It is the IOC’s leaders hope that the four parties together can work to decrease costs to the satisfaction of all. The article explained that it is in the IOC’s best interests to defuse this internal conflict as soon as possible.

“The IOC is worried that news of this wrangling over the 2020 Olympics will spread through the world,” a Japanese government source said. “It probably decided it can no longer leave the issue in the hands of the Tokyo metropolitan government or the organizing committee alone.”

Rowing and canoeing are just the beginning. Next up for discussion? The venues for gymnastics and volleyball.

yuriko-koike-in-rio
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike in Rio, accepting the Olympic Flag in the closing ceremonies of the Rio Olympics.

The Rio Olympics were coming to an end, but there was still one thing left to do – hand the Olympic flag over to Japan. And there she stood on stage, to the left of IOC President, Thomas Bach, waving the flag, and accepting the heavy responsibility of the 2020 Olympic Games.

Japan is very much a man’s world, particularly in Japanese politics and government. So it was a powerful image to see Yuriko Koike, elegant in a cream and gold-colored kimono, representing Japan on the biggest sports stage in the world. While the world awaits to see whether America will elect its first female president, Tokyo has already gone ahead and elected its first female governor.

A former journalist who speaks Arabic, Koike was elected to an Upper House seat in 1992 for the Japan New Party, which no longer exists. After serving 8 terms, she was tapped to be the Environment Minister from 2003 to 2006 under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. In other words, Koike is an experienced politician.

And yet, when the former Tokyo governor, Yoichi Masuzoe, reluctantly resigned due to his personal use of public funds, Koike’s own party did not race to support her. Suspecting that support might not come her way, Koike declared her candidacy for the governorship, much to the anger of the LDP. Her party’s lack of support was not an issue as Koike won the election in a landslide on July 31, 2016.

She ran on a platform that included a call to revisit the Tokyo 2020 budget. But her opening salvo was directed at the planned move of the famous fish market in Tokyo from Tsukiji to Toyosu, 2 kilometers south of the current site. Toyosu would apparently have more room for expansion, as well as more modern facilities. The new site was previously the home of a large gas processing plant, the grounds of which had become heavily contaminated.

•À‚ׂç‚ꂽ‘½‚­‚̃}ƒOƒ
The Tuskiji fish market in Tokyo

Thus the condition for approving the move to Toyosu was to ensure no traces of contamination. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government was charged with removing 2 meters of soil, decontaminating it, and then placing another 2.5 meters of new soil to ensure that the food, 1 million tons of fresh fish, fruit and vegetables, could be stored, prepared and sold in total confidence of safety. This work was completed in 2014 at a cost of about JPY86 billion (USD800 million).

When the new governor asked for confirmation whether these safety measures were carried out or not, she learned that the space underneath the five main structures on the site, over 30% of the entire site, did not have the required 4.5 meters of decontaminated and fresh soil underneath them. Instead of soil, hollow spaces were created underneath the buildings.

Here’s how this editorial from The Japan Times interpreted the situation: “Whatever the explanations may be, the metropolitan government lied to the public in that its website stated that the whole site was covered with clean soil to block the effects of toxic materials.

This is an example of Koike’s reporter’s instincts to challenge authority and uncover unjust practices. Already she has challenged previous administrations in the Tsukiji Market relocation. What else will be uncovered? Will anyone be held accountable? What will happen to Tsukiji Market?

Who knows. But right now, the right questions are being asked. What are the implications for the 2020 Olympics? Perhaps, a bit of the same…..

Munich Massacre
West German policemen wearing sweatsuits, bullet-proof vests and armed with submachine guns, take up positions on September 5, 1972 on Olympic Village rooftops where armed Palestinians were holding Israeli team members hostage

The terrorist attacks on Paris last month are still likely jagged memories for many. I shudder to think of what could have been if the suicide bomber had successfully made her way into the Stade de France during the football match between the French and German national teams.

The singular most horrific terrorist attack in an Olympic Games are when eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and killed during the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, Germany. A Palestinian group called Black September, a faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) smuggled rifles, pistols and grenades into the Olympic Village on September 5, 1972, before dawn, while athletes slept.

Details of those events have been depicted in articles, books and film. But until recently, the level of cruelty the Israeli athletes suffered had not been known, according to this New York Times article. The reporter explains that German authorities had hundreds of pages of reports depicting the 20-hours the athletes were held hostage, but until recently denied they had existed.

Israeli victims
Six of the 11 Israeli hostages killed by the Palestinian ‘Black September’ cell at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Yossef Romano, the torture victim, is top center

The families of victims were actually aware of these reports and never-released photos of the massacre since 1992. A documentary called “Munich 72 & Beyond” will be released in early 2016.

Munich-1972-Beyond

The International Olympic Committee has had a long, uneasy relationship with families of the Munich victims. According to this New York Times article, they have been lobbying the IOC for official recognition of those killed during the Munich Olympics. They are hoping that the IOC will create awareness of that day in September to the Games in August, 2016, in Rio.

In fact, progress has been made and a memorial will be built in Germany, very near the building where the Israeli athletes were taken hostage. The memorial, which will open to the public in September, 2016, is being funded by the local Bavarian government, the German federal government, as well as the IOC and the Foundation for Global Sports Development.

Perhaps progress has been due to a change in IOC leadership in 2013. The current IOC head is Thomas Bach, a German. In addition to the memorial in Germany, Bach announced there will also be a memorial erected in Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic Games.

“We want to give the athletes the opportunity to express their mourning in a dignified way and environment in the Olympic Village where representatives of the whole world are living peacefully under the same roof,” (Bach) said. “At the Closing Ceremony, the Games come to an end and many people feel that it is a moment to remember people who have died at the Olympic Games.”