Tokyo 2021: Olympic Games at all costs

“Indifference in the world, opposition in Japan. “After having had, like many, to give up taking the plane for Japan, the deputy Régis Juanico (Socialists and related parties), member of the working group on Paris 2024, sums up the funny state of mind reigning on the planet. on the eve of the opening of the Tokyo Games. Beijing 2008 had faced threats of a political boycott; London 2012, caused a wave of enthusiasm after the financial crisis; PyeongChang 2018, triggered the hope of appeasement between the two Koreas.

→ REPORT. In Tokyo, the Olympic Games in all discretion

And Tokyo? Even before officially starting, even if the competition has started since Wednesday, July 21 (1), these Games will be inaugurated in a gloomy atmosphere, a mixture of doubts and a feeling of immense waste. A small part of the 10,900 athletes will parade in an empty stadium, under the gaze of an official platform filled with only a few personalities, including the Emperor of Japan, the wife of the President of the United States and Emmanuel Macron, the sole leader. State of the G7 to have made the trip to host the future Olympics.

The rendezvous of a lifetime for athletes

Jean-Christophe Rolland, one of the three French members of the International Olympic Committee, along with Tony Estanguet and Guy Drut, will be there, determined to defend these Games of the impossible, which were already to be held last summer. “Precautions have been taken and the risk of worsening the health situation in Japan is minimal. The world must not stop, the athletes have all worked for these Games, they are their obsession: for many, it is the meeting of a lifetime ”, he explains. For his part, IOC President Thomas Bach claims that the continuation of the event is in no way linked to any financial risk, covered according to him by insurance contracts.

These speeches go badly with the Japanese population, mostly hostile to the holding of these Games, even if the anger remains contained during the event. The word most often found in editorials in the Japanese press is that of “Ken’o” (disgust). The first demonstrations, which were held in calm, against the president of the International Olympic Committee when he arrived in Japan in early July, fell.

Local cameras are now focused on the multiple dysfunctions of recent days: unbearable waiting times for arrivals at the airport, repeated electronic problems, first (rare) positive cases in the village. Not to mention the chronicle of the cascading resignations of Japanese Olympic officials for sexist, anti-disabled or mocking remarks about the Shoah.

Toyota boycotts opening ceremony

The main Japanese sponsors, who are largely financing an exploding bill (the cost of the postponement is estimated at 2 billion euros) have chosen their side. They are boycotting the opening ceremony and many, like Toyota, have canceled the advertising campaigns that were supposed to frame the television broadcasts. There is no question for them of being associated with these Games, which are as unpopular as they are invisible. In the streets of Tokyo, posters, banners and other flags in the Olympic colors are conspicuous by their absence.

From one poll to another, the number of opponents fluctuates between 70 and 80%, that is to say the exact opposite proportion when the host city was appointed in 2013. The arguments on the need for the Games to overcome the tragedy of Fukushima, who had played a big role in the IOC’s decision to prefer Tokyo to Madrid and Istanbul during the award, seem a long way off. And the argument of self-esteem vis-à-vis the Chinese neighbor – who will organize without incident, at least in the official speech, the 2022 Winter Games – feels reheated.

Domestic policy imperatives

So why persist? Maintaining these Games through thick and thin also responds to domestic policy imperatives. “The current Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga cannot judge his predecessor Shinzo Abe, who had chosen to postpone the 2020 Games this summer, because he needs support to stay in office”, explains political scientist Koichi Nakano. Appointed prime minister within his party with the support of his predecessor, without going through a general election, Yoshihide Suga will have to face a general election this fall, while the popularity rating of his government has fallen to its lowest (around 30%) since coming to power in September 2020.

→ READ. The long list of health restrictions at the Tokyo Olympics

Throughout his speech, he persisted in referring to these Games as “The symbol of the victory of humanity against the epidemic”, betting on a low health impact of these Games on the population. For the time being, the Japanese capital, and its 14 million inhabitants, is plunged into a state of health emergency, put back in place since Monday, July 19 and until August 22, i.e. the entire period of the Olympics (which last until August 8). On Wednesday July 21, the country still recorded 1,832 new cases of coronavirus, a local record since January.


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