Athletes deserve praise as Tokyo Olympics wrap up / Address operational issues for future

The curtain has come down on the Olympics, held in Tokyo for the first time in 57 years. It will certainly be talked about for a long time as an extraordinary event that overcame the difficulties of the global pandemic of the novel coronavirus.

The pandemic forced the Tokyo Olympics to repeatedly make changes from the initial plan, including such unprecedented developments as the postponement of the Games by a year and the banning of spectators from most venues.

Development program pays off

During the 17 days of the Olympics, the number of newly infected people in Tokyo skyrocketed due to the spread of the highly contagious delta variant, leading some people to call for the event to be canceled.

The power and skill displayed by elite athletes from all over the world, however, was an impressive sight to behold. There was great significance of holding the Olympics in spite of the difficult circumstances.

The athletes had continued to practice amid the precarious situation looming over the holding of the Olympics. Even during the event, they were subject to restrictions on their activities due to infection control measures.

Many people must have been encouraged by the athletes’ passion to tackle the competitions. The athletes must be commended for giving their all.

Japan’s delegation won 58 medals: 27 golds, 14 silvers and 17 bronzes. The total number of gold medals far surpassed the previous record of 16 medals won at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and 2004 Athens Olympics. The total number of medals was also the highest for Japan.

In particular, it was nothing but stunning that Japan’s judoka won in nine of the 14 individual weight categories for men and women, while gymnast Daiki Hashimoto and swimmer Yui Ohashi won two gold medals each. There was also plenty to talk about, such as the new Olympic sport skateboarding, in which Japan’s teen and tween skateboarders performed wonderfully.

Japan’s distinctive team spirit also shone through in such sports as baseball, softball and the table tennis mixed doubles, as they all achieved long-cherished dreams of winning gold.

Since 2013, when Tokyo was selected to host the 2020 Games, the government has increased the budget for athlete development, allocating it more heavily to such sports as judo, where medals were expected to be won. It can be said that these measures have borne fruit in the excellent results by athletes representing Japan.

Women stand tall

On the other hand, Japan’s swimmers won only three medals, the fewest since the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The development of the younger generation will surely be an issue.

One of the core visions of the Tokyo Olympics is “Unity in Diversity.”

Symbolic of this is the presence of athletes who have roots in countries outside Japan, such as basketball player Rui Hachimura, who served as the flag bearer for Japan’s delegation at the opening ceremony, and tennis player Naomi Osaka, who was the final runner of the torch relay.

Among the athletes who participated in the Tokyo Olympics were the members of the Refugee Olympic Team, formed for athletes who fled their home countries for various reasons, and athletes who publicly identify as LGBT.

Women’s outstanding performances were also noteworthy. Of the 583 athletes representing Japan, a record high of 277 were women, who won about half the gold medals awarded to Japan.

The number of mixed events has also increased in order to promote gender equality. This situation should serve as an opportunity to change our society to one that accepts diversity.

Problems come to light

The latest Olympics had been positioned as the “reconstruction Olympics,” as this year marked the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

The COVID-19 pandemic prevented people overseas from seeing the recovery efforts in person, but medalists were presented with bouquets of flowers from the disaster areas at the awards ceremony, and food from the disaster areas was used for meals in the Olympic Village.

There were tens of thousands of athletes and other related people who came to Japan. The fact that no major infection clusters occurred in the Olympic Village and elsewhere can be said to be proof of the success of the Tokyo Olympics. It also must not be forgotten that the Olympics were supported by a large number of volunteers.

On the other hand, issues facing the present-day Olympics were also brought to light.

Holding the Tokyo Olympics in the intense heat of midsummer and putting many preliminary contests at night were among the aspects of the competition schedule that made it tough on athletes. The scheduling was said to have been done in such a way because of the priority given to the wishes of the U.S. network that paid massive fees for the broadcasting rights to the International Olympic Committee.

The Tokyo metropolitan government and the central government will pay most of the additional costs associated with the postponement of the Games and for making up for the loss of ticket revenue due to holding competitions without spectators at most venues. It has been argued that the host city faces greater risks than the IOC, which had secured broadcasting rights fees.

Just before the opening ceremony, one after another, people in charge of staging various aspects of the ceremony were among those forced to resign or who were dismissed after their past disrespect of human rights or other actions were pointed out.

It is necessary for the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to keep records on the issues it faced this time and make proposals to the IOC for future Olympic reforms.

The Paralympics will start on Aug. 24. The Paralympic opening ceremony is expected to be held again under a state of emergency. The government and the organizing committee must apply the lessons learned from the Olympics to the Paralympics as well.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 9, 2021.