Japan's rocky ride to Tokyo 2020

Japan's rocky ride to Tokyo 2020

EXTRAVAGANT COST: The National Olympic Stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Games was designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid.


    Sep 11, 2015

    Japan's rocky ride to Tokyo 2020

    THE ride to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is turning out to be a mighty bumpy one.

    First it was the stadium. The budget, which was initially capped at ¥252 billion (S$2.9 billion), was deemed too high and had to undergo some drastic cuts. Then, the official emblem was pulled after it was found to be a rip-off.

    But this is only the tip of the iceberg, according to critics, who say that many decisions regarding the games were made without consensus.

    For instance, the public was never adequately informed of the criteria for choosing Kenjiro Sano's emblem design.

    And the uniforms for the volunteers were also decided swiftly and suddenly.

    It has come to the point where people are reminiscing about the 1964 Olympic Games, when the emblem was literally the Japanese flag, saying: "Now that's what an emblem should look like."

    These critics are repeatedly demanding for the Tokyo authorities to place the onus on those who deserve it, instead of making Sano the lone "fall guy".

    When the designer finally admitted to the charges of plagiarism, I expected to see a queue of officials meander onto a podium before sinking into deep bows and offering their resignations.

    But this has not happened. Yet. And the Tokyo Olympics preparation committee has yet to do anything more than issue a bunch of vague apologies.

    An Olympic emblem turning out to be plagiarised is a very serious issue. Not only is it the face of the games, the credibility of the Japanese government has been compromised.

    But Japan seems eager to move on and forget it all happened.

    Especially Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who recently nabbed another term as the leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Mr Abe did not have to go through a party election to continue because he ran unopposed. Nevertheless, he probably still doesn't want to anything to eclipse his aura of victory.

    I believe the Tokyo government will continue to stay mum on the controversies surrounding the Summer Games, waiting for the storm to blow over.

    One thing I learnt working in Japan is that it's never a good idea to say sorry for anything.

    Even if it's your fault, it's best to just keep your mouth shut and pretend that everything is all right, because as long as you don't bring it up, chances are, other people won't either.

    This way, they buy your silence.

    They also don't want to be so rude as to point out your mistakes, nor disrupt the sense of unity within the organisation.

    No doubt, a similar approach is being applied to the irregularities of the 2020 Games.

    But this time, it looks like the public is determined to get to the bottom of things.

    Blogs and social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, are flooded with demands from upset citizens for the government to issue more apologies and to punish those who are responsible for the mess.

    At a newspaper, both the reporter and the editor will take the hit for controversial stories. And when a suit is filed, it will usually be against not only the individuals but the publication as well. It's rare to see the reporter and the editor fight alone. That's because the firm must bear the responsibility for publishing the story.

    The Olympic organisers in Tokyo are now saying fresh designs will be put up for bidding. And plans for the stadium are back on track.

    But before all this actually happens, the Japanese government should try to redeem itself by investigating who was responsible for what. And by answering any remaining questions that the public may have.

    Japan needs to display the class befitting the official host of one of the most-watched sports events on the planet.