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Tokyo 2020 Olympics

JOC executive warns fewer cities will bid for Olympics after Tokyo

Kaori Yamaguchi says games are now 'entertainment and business' events

Kaori Yamaguchi, a former Olympian and a Japan Olympic Committee board member, speaks to Nikkei Asia in an online interview on Friday.

TOKYO -- One legacy of the pandemic-hit Tokyo Olympics is that fewer cities are likely to bid to for the games in the future, Kaori Yamaguchi, a board member of the Japan Olympic Committee, told Nikkei Asia in an interview on Friday.

The remarks by Yamaguchi, a former Olympic judoka, come one day after the International Olympic Committee approved Brisbane's bid to host the Summer Games in 2032. No other cities are expected to compete.

"This decision is symbolic," the 56-year-old said. "Now that everyone knows about the unfair contract with the IOC, and that there are few merits for host cities, there will be fewer candidates."

In the contract, only the IOC has the authority to cancel the games -- including in cases where "the safety of participants in the games would be seriously threatened or jeopardized." The hosts cannot claim any "indemnity, damages or other compensation" for a cancellation, and if the IOC calls off the games at the host's request, the host is on the hook financially to parties such as the IOC and broadcasters.

In 2013, when Tokyo won the bid to host the 2020 games, five cities bid to host them. For the 2024 event, only Paris and Los Angeles vied for the games. As a result, Paris was selected to host the 2024 Olympiad, followed by Los Angeles in 2028.

"For a long time, we have believed that the Olympics are something special," Yamaguchi said. "From now on, we should think that Olympics are merely entertainment and business events."

An Olympic Rings sculpture stands outside the Japan Olympic Committee headquarters near the National Stadium in Tokyo. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

Yamaguchi said that organizers are struggling to find a clear meaning in holding the Olympics during a pandemic. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga dodged a question from opposition leader Yukio Edano during a debate on Thursday over why Japan should hold the games this year.

Yamaguchi said the government should have set clear conditions for holding the games when it declared a second state of emergency in January.

"They didn't set clear requirements because they didn't have the choice to cancel the games in the first place," Yamaguchi said. She added that this gave the public a negative impression -- that organizers will push ahead with the Olympics no matter what.

Just 42 days before the opening ceremony, Yamaguchi fears that holding the Olympics will make people less likely to follow pandemic restrictions as it sends the message that people can get excited and celebrate.

"I'm afraid prevention measures will not be sufficient to contain the movement of people," Yamaguchi said. "The government should start thinking about measures for the possibility of an explosion of infections after the games."

Organizers are seeking ways to hold what the government vows will be a "safe and secure" Olympics. Frequent PCR tests, movement restrictions using GPS to monitor the whereabouts of visitors, and an Olympic app are among the steps being taken.

Yamaguchi said she doubted effectiveness of such measures. "The pandemic has revealed how much Japan is lagging behind in digitization. Those measures lack rehearsals. We don't really know if they are feasible unless we do them on the spot," she said.

During the games, special care for athletes' mental health will be needed, Yamaguchi added. Athletes, who usually receive "unconditional" support from fans, may now bear the brunt of criticism and attacks from those who don't want the games, Yamaguchi said. She added that the athletes also will face pressure to take daily PCR tests.

"The athletes will be exposed to intense stress, wondering whether they have tested positive, especially if they compete as a team," she said.

Yamaguchi, who won a bronze medal in judo at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and is a former world champion, has been an outspoken critic of the organizers since last year. In March 2020, she publicly said the games should be postponed, the first such statement by any JOC board member.

Her fearless attitude is something that she learned from sports. "I learned that I have to do my best no matter who I am up against," she said.

"If I hide from someone when I do not stand on the Tatami mat, I deny the value of sports," she added, describing the surface of a judo court. "I'll have the title of an Olympian on my shoulder for the rest of my life. I want to live up to that name."

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