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  • OpEd -- Tokyo Delivers, Still Searches for Why


    Ed Hula in Tokyo. (ATR)
    (ATR) The Tokyo bid for the 2020 Olympics sails through four days of international scrutiny and comes out looking strong – but still with a major question to answer.

    The Japanese capital was the first stop in the three-city IOC inspection tour of the 2020 bids that will continue with Madrid and Istanbul later this month.

    While hardly the same pressurized and massive operation as the Olympics, Tokyo’s handling of the IOC Evaluation Commission visit this week reinforced the notion that it could take on the 2020 Games in a capable, organized manner.

    There really were no obvious glitches or glaring errors to get in the way of Tokyo 2020’s explanation to the IOC of the plan for the Games.

    Commission chair Craig Reedie called the Tokyo bidders “hugely prepared”.

    And among the press covering the visit, high marks also were given. The Okura Hotel (IOC hotel for the 1964 Olympics), served as both lodging and press center, a package of convenience not often offered by the bid cities. Technical services such as internet worked at a high level, while translation was also well-done for the couple dozen international press attending.

    Venue tours, often achingly long bus rides, managed to be tolerable for the press, due to the compact placement of venues within 10km of the hotel, saving wear and tear – and patience.

    Tokyo 2020 scored with shows of support for the bid from the government. New Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke (and sang a little ditty) for the IOC commission at the open of the meeting and hosted the visitors at a gala dinner Wednesday night.

    Plenty should be said about the new governor of Tokyo, Naoke Inose, who took office in December, succeeding the strident Shintaro Ishihara. Even though Ishihara was the original proponent for a new Tokyo Olympics eight years ago, Inose has easily warmed to the cause, making it his own without the destabilizing nationalist rhetoric for which his predecessor was known.

    Inose, far more approachable and blessed with good humor, will be a potent emissary for the Japanese bid, although
    IOC Olympic Games executive director Gilbert Felli and Craig Reedie. (ATR)
    as with most of the bid leadership, limited in his command of English. Whether that remains a hindrance to communicating the message of the Tokyo bid to IOC members who will decide the race remains to be seen.

    Heading into the IOC commission visit this week, Tokyo seemed to be missing just one piece of the puzzle for a successful bid, strong public support. But the release of new polling by the IOC indicates that there’s been a surge of support since the last survey in 2011, growing from an unacceptable 47 percent to 70 percent, competitive now with rivals Madrid and Istanbul.

    But as we step back and look at the picture, there’s still something missing. That’s the “why” of the Tokyo 2020 bid.

    Pressed in questions from the media, Tokyo 2020 Olympic bid leaders struggle to find a defining message that carries an emotional appeal. Even in a one-on-one interview (set for publishing by ATR March 12) Inose failed to deliver a reason to vote for Tokyo besides its admiral physical assets.

    While it’s one thing to have an inventory of 80,000 rooms ready to go or a transport system that needs few changes to host the Olympics, convincing the IOC usually takes some tugs at the heart strings along with the facts and figures.

    Tokyo needs to be wary, as does Madrid, of Istanbul, which so far seems poised to make the most of its emotional appeal: first Games in an iconic crossroads of the world, an inspiration to the majority youth population of Turkey. Japan, as the prime minister noted to the IOC commission, is an ageing society.

    We won’t suggest what that driver for Tokyo will be. The bid has a deep pool of talent from Japan and abroad to find a message that resonates with all the authenticity of a Shinto temple bell.

    Technical prowess is one thing, but plenty of losing bids have made the day-after discovery that a little passion was needed as well as dominating facts and figures.

    Written and reported in Tokyo by Ed Hula.

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