Suckers? Hi-tech and efficient Tokyo out to prove that hosting the Olympic Games is not a bad bet

Rio de Janeiro’s daunting legacy of public debt and government ineptitude hangs over a far from stable Japan with the 2020 Games on the horizon

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 August, 2016, 2:32pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 August, 2016, 7:35pm

There’s a sucker born every minute. It doesn’t matter who said it, all that matters is that the phrase is older than anyone reading this. Much, much older. It became part of the lexicon around 1870 and today, it has clearly stood the test of time.

As the Olympic flame was passed from Rio de Janeiro to Tokyo amidst a snappy 10 minute hi-tech showcase featuring everyone from Hello Kitty,

Pac-man,Captain Tsubasa and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe disguised as Super Mario, it became official.

The neon capital of the universe will welcome the world in 2020 as Asia gets ready to hog the next three Olympics, with Pyeongchang in South Korea hosting the Winter edition in 2018 and Beijing doing the honours in 2022.

For Rio, it is over and out and really not a moment too soon. Fair or not, it seemed like the organisers, the city and the country stumbled from one unmanageable crisis to another. After hosting both the football World Cup and the Olympics over the past two years, Brazil certainly won’t miss the unremitting gaze of global scrutiny.

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With a legacy of massive public debt, endless negative publicity, complaints of inadequate facilities and uninhabitable accommodations amidst dangerous streets, as well as murky green water in the diving pool and scandalously false tales of frat boy swimmers robbed at gunpoint in a taxi, there is only one question left to answer: who would want to host an Olympic Games?

Well Asia, obviously, because like the man said there is a sucker born every minute. In fact, there is a whole new queue of suckers lining up to host the 2024 Games with Rome, Paris, Budapest and Los Angeles all waiting to hear their name called by the International Olympic Committee [IOC] in September 2017. Again, why?

Maybe Tokyo will be able to answer that question. Maybe Tokyo will be fiscally efficient and a source of great civic and national pride.

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Maybe Tokyo will be able to encourage the world to come on over and help fill stadiums with spectators, help make the Olympics something special, instead of an endless punching bag for the disillusioned masses.

With only 88 countries and 2,800 athletes competing in the last Winter Games compared to 207 nations and 11,300 athletes in Rio, the pressure in Asia is largely on Tokyo. At this stage there is a perverse joy for many in watching privileged IOC members squirming uncomfortably.

However, this time so much of the IOC’s pain came at the expense of the people of Brazil. And frankly those people have suffered enough and continue to suffer. The IOC is gone now but the problems in Brazil, some of them created by hosting the Olympics, still remain. Tokyo won’t be able to help Brazil, but it may be able to help the IOC.

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For now, at least, the jury is still out. Already a massive controversy over the design and redesign of the national stadium forced Abe to issue a apology and has resulted in huge construction delays.

Even more troubling is the news that the budget is now expected to exceed US$15 billion, an astounding six times more than the original estimate. Japan may be the third biggest economy in the world, but it’s an economy that has been going backwards for a good 25 years, resulting in a crippling national debt of US$11 trillion.

There is no money under the mattresses in Japan to pay for the inevitable Olympic budget overrun and little goodwill for a government that most Japanese believe to be bumbling and inept.

In 1964, Tokyo became the first Asian city to host the Olympics, which were a transformational moment in the modern building of a country that had been left dire and desolate after World War II.

They were truly the catalyst for the Japanese economic miracle that would follow and left an overwhelmingly positive Olympic legacy.

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For all of the enduring legacy of public debt in host cities like Montreal, Athens, and Rio, there are a few success stories as well, most notably Tokyo in 1964, Barcelona in 1992 and London in 2012.

Where Tokyo 2020 will fit has yet to be determined. Regardless though, even if it is a disastrous affair, there will still be a number of suitors once again queuing up for the opportunity to risk hosting a Olympics and the reason is fairly simple. There is one born every minute.

Do you agree or disagree with what Tim has to say? Email your comments to [email protected]