Japan’s month of reckoning

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A worker walks through the front entrance of National Stadium Wednesday, June 23, 2021, in Tokyo, one month before the July 23 opening of Tokyo Olympics. The Tokyo Olympics, already delayed by the pandemic, are not looking like much fun: Not for athletes. Not for fans. And not for the Japanese public. They are caught between concerns about the coronavirus at a time when few are vaccinated on one side and politicians who hope to save face by holding the games and the International Olympic Committee with billions of dollars on the line on the other. Photo: AP/UNB

Today marks the beginning of the Olympic Month in Japan. The 2020 summer Olympic Games are supposed to kick-off on July 23 with a watered-down grand opening at the newly built national stadium in Tokyo.

Japan had won the bid to hold this sought-after event in Tokyo in September 2013 and since then the metropolitan government as well as the central administration had taken number of bold measures to ensure a successful holding of this grand sporting celebration of global scale. Everything was moving almost in a seamless manner well until the unfolding of a great tragedy that the world started encountering in the form of corona virus, which eventually had upturned many of our plans; including the 2020 Olympic Games. As a result, the Olympic Games that Tokyo was looking forward to, was postponed for a year and the dates and schedules for all related events were shifted to 2021. The organizers, though, kept the old name of Tokyo 2020 unchanged.

During the subsequent year-long period of slow down and emergencies, the organizers of the games were busy finding ways that would allow the events to go ahead and also would not pose any serious health threat to participants, officials, spectators, as well as people of the host city. At the height of the infection during the second half of last year, nobody was able to foresee convincingly about the future of the Games in Tokyo. There were wild card calls for a blanket cancellation or indefinite postponement, as virus started travelling all over the places causing rampant devastation and increasing the fear that a large scale gathering like the Olympics might turn out to be suicidal. It should be noted that a second postponement would have virtually killed Tokyo 2020, as the busy window of international sporting events would probably have little option to allow the game to be held at different time other than the following year, and thus killing Tokyo 2020 altogether. Fortunately, this did not happen, though uncertainty remains over the important question of how the events are eventually to be held.

For Tokyo, Olympic debacle is not something completely new. We all know Japan not only successfully staged the 1964 summer Olympic Games, but did it with a tremendous success that raised the profile of the country and also that of the Asian continent, to the extent that the successful holding of 1964 Summer Olympics became synonymous to Japan’s miraculous economic progress. The bullet train Shinkansen is a product of 1964 Tokyo Olympic games, so are many of country’s industrial and consumer products with which the name of the country later became closely associated. 1964 Tokyo Olympics, thus, marked Japan’s rise as a dominant force in global economy. The country since then has been playing expanded role not only in fostering a balanced global growth, but also in finding ways for helping nations that are still in need of help. In the subsequent decades since the 1964 Olympic Games, Japan has become more involved in global issues like combating global warming and environment pollution, disaster reduction and mitigation, public health, urbanization, sustainable development, as well as peace-keeping.

Compared to that, Tokyo 2020 had a real rough ride. The name of the game had been tainted right from the beginning with a number of scandals, ranging from the initially approved logo and scrapping of the already decided plan for a new national stadium to the forced resignation of number of high officials who were closely involved in the handling of preparations of the games. However, right at the moment when it looked as if Japan had successfully managed to overcome most of the difficulties, the advent of corona virus dealt a severe blow and the games prospect once again turned extremely bleak. Though a number of issues, including how many spectators will be allowed to each of the Olympic Venues and how to ensure that the incoming flow of athletes and guests from overseas will not fuel further the spread of virus, it now looks like a definite conclusion that Tokyo 2020 will mark the start on July 23.

Japan in general seems to be not lucky enough for what accounts to be hosting the Olympic Games. The rocky road that Olympic preparations had to go through during last two years speaks all about that. But this is not for the first time that Japan’s Olympic luck came across formidable obstacles.

Tokyo’s first successful Olympic bid was for the 1940 games, the right Japan had won during the controversial 1936 Berlin Games. The country was earnestly looking forward to the arrival of the game in Asian soil for first time ever, and a number of new venues were already underway when the start of World War II in European soil in September 1939 effectively put an end to that ambitious dream of Tokyo.

For Japan, the year 1940 was earmarked as 2,600th anniversary of Emperor Jimmu’s accession to the throne as the first emperor in Japanese history and the government planned a number of events coinciding with the hosting of 1940 Olympic Games. But all that eventually turned out to be shattered dreams and as the consequences of the war for Japan had been extremely devastating, Tokyo for a number of years did not have any opportunity to revive that lost hope and go for another bid. However, the country eventually could realize that dream within two decades.

Olympic is also a time for hope for many of the athletes who participate. A near empty venue is not that they would expect and welcome. However, at the time of distress, it is definitely better than dumping the hope for good. Let this spirit of Olympic participation remain high, not only until the flags are raised, but also throughout the whole period of two games – 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

Monzurul Huq from Tokyo

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