Tuesday, October 19

Tokyo’s dilapidated heritage

With their medals around their necks and some disappointments on their backs, the athletes will leave Such after these end today Olympic Games, the strangest in history for having been held without spectators due to the coronavirus pandemic. After almost three weeks of competition, it is time to take stock of what these Games have left in Japan beyond sports.

To begin with, and as was feared, the coronavirus has skyrocketed in this country and continues to break records with more than 12,000 daily cases, the highest since the pandemic broke out in Wuhan last year. Of them, more than 5,000 are registered in the capital, which will remain under its fourth

state of emergency until August 22. With ten other prefectures setting daily highs, including some with Olympic venues like Saitama and Chiba, the Government expanded restrictions to stop the spread of the dreaded Delta variant. First detected in April in India and more contagious than the others, this strain already accounts for 90 percent of infections in India. Kanto region, where Tokyo is located, and 60 percent in western Japan.

“In many areas of the country we are seeing a rapid increase at an unprecedented speed,” warned the Minister in charge of the fight against coronavirus, Yasutoshi Nishimura, according to the Kyodo agency. With the number of patients in serious condition doubled in the last two weeks, the Japanese health system is already feeling the pressure and the Government has ordered that only those with severe symptoms can be hospitalized. A controversial measure that many will not follow because Most Japanese blame Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s cabinet of this rebound in Covid-19 for not having canceled the Games.

Once celebrated, and with the start of the Paralympics set for August 24, the only thing the Executive can do now is try to contain the wound with more sanitary measures and limitations. The prefectures that were already under a state of emergency have been joined by another eight with new restrictions since Sunday. Although they will not be as severe as in other places, restaurants will not be able to serve alcohol and will be forced to close at eight in the afternoon.

This ban has forced the temporary closure of many establishments. This is how it can be seen on Tokyo’s popular Ginza Corridor bar and restaurant street, which has not looked so empty since the 2011 tsunami that sparked the Fukushima nuclear accident. Precisely in this city, the same desolate aspect presented this week its central leisure area, where the semi-emergency state had not yet entered into force, but the streets were already deserted at dusk. A very different picture from what was expected in Japan when Tokyo was chosen as the Olympic venue in 2013.

At that time, the Games promised to help rebuild Fukushima and other prefectures affected by the disaster, which were designated Tokyo Olympic sub-sites. But, instead of the anticipated flood of visitors coming, what came was the fear of the coronavirus. So much so that the Japanese government, in an unusual decision, decided to celebrate them behind closed doors. In addition to 800 million dollars (676 million euros) lost in ticketsThus, the last remaining hopes that the Games would serve to relaunch Japan’s damaged economy, which is still the third largest in the world, but has not raised its head since the financial crisis that shook Asia in 1997. Before the pandemic, the The government wanted to boost the tourism industry with the arrival of 40 million tourists this year, but the coronavirus has kept the borders closed since January. For Takahide Kiuchi, an analyst at Nomura, the Japanese economy would have lost 146,800 million yen (1,131 million euros) for not allowing the presence of spectators.

Haneda airport, empty before restrictions
Haneda airport, empty before restrictions – AFP

With empty stadiums, hotels and restaurants, Everything indicates that the Tokyo Games will be a ruin, but the economic losses would have been even greater if the television rights, which are the ones that contribute the most money, had been canceled and lost. When el International Olympic Committee (IOC) granted the celebration to the Japanese capital, its official cost amounted to 7,300 million dollars (6,163 million euros). After being inflated by cost overruns in emblematic infrastructures such as the Olympic Stadium, which forced the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma to revise Zaha Hadid’s colossal project downwards, the budget had doubled last year to 15.4 billion dollars (13.011 million euros). With a loss of 2,800 million dollars (2,365 million euros) for the postponement of one year due to the coronavirus, the National Audit of Japan estimates that its final price will be around 22,000 million dollars (18,585 million euros). But some Japanese media, such as ‘Nikkei’ and the newspaper ‘Asahi’, raise the bill to 28,000 million dollars (23,654 million euros) and several economists up to 35,000 million dollars (29,566 million euros).

Debts for many years

In view of such figures, These Games will not be as expensive as the Winter Games in Sochi 2014, which cost 50,000 million dollars (42,246 million euros), nor like those of Beijing 2008, which amounted to 45,000 million dollars (38,021 million euros). But they will leave the Japanese coffers in debt for years, as has been happening with the last calls. This is how it happened to Athens 2004 games, blamed by many for the collapse of the Greek economy during the global financial crisis that erupted four years later, and, more recently, those in Rio. In fact, some economists believe that the last Games to be profitable were those in Los Angeles in 1984.

An operator cleans one of the Tokyo 2020 facilities
An operator cleans one of the Tokyo 2020 facilities – Reuters

Added to this economic threat is its unpopularity due to fear of the coronavirus, which has led large Japanese corporations to distance themselves from the Games. Next to Toyota’s ad withdrawal, who is also one of his sponsors, other business moguls have openly positioned themselves against him. While the CEO of the beverage giant Suntory, Takeshi Niinami, alerted on ‘CNN Business’ that the “economic losses will be enormous”, Rakuten’s, Hiroshi Mikitani, had even asked the Government not to celebrate them.

But Prime Minister Suga not only detaches the rebound in the coronavirus from the Games, but is convinced of his decision to go ahead with them. In an interview with ‘The Wall Street Journal’, he assured that “the easiest thing would have been to cancel them, but the Government’s obligation is to face the challenges.” In addition to the economic interests for television rights, national pride weighs on him, especially considering that China will host the winter ones in February. That Tokyo had suspended theirs while Beijing prepares those of 2022 it would have been a hard blow that would confirm the rise and fall of both countries. Despite the strong social rejection, which has plunged his acceptance rate to 33 percent, Suga does not need to move through electoral calculations. Unless the coronavirus causes a catastrophe like in India, it seems unlikely that the weak opposition will threaten the historic hegemony of the party in power in the elections scheduled for October.

Beyond the economic and human cost that the Tokyo Games, its sporting heritage will last an Olympiad and the architectural and urban planning for decades. Almost as much as what it will cost to pay for it.


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