By now, the most recent edition of the Summer Olympics — held one year removed from its original date in 2020 due to the ongoing global pandemic — has wrapped up the closing ceremony without much aplomb, mostly in part thanks to the fact that no fans or spectators were present throughout the entire international sporting affair. This unfortunate outcome is certainly a stark contrast to the glory and riches promised by Japan (or Tokyo’s leaders) when the oriental island nation first won its bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics back in 2013. An influx of new jobs was promised. And the economy would inevitably grow and bring Japan to new heights in terms of international stature. As we are already aware, all of this didn’t happen.
The Games have failed to live up to their economic promise no thanks in part to Covid-19, but also the fact that the organisers decided to move forwards with the event by removing fans from the equation — effectively creating an anti-coronavirus dome in the centre of Tokyo.
We Wanted The Olympics, All We Got Was A Bubble
Instead of an extravagant sporting event, the city was reduced to a mere event venue that has demanded so much commitment but provided little to no returns for the people of Tokyo. Case in point, even after spending billions of dollars to organise the event, the citizens of Tokyo experienced the Olympics much like you and I had: as an event on TV.
Instead of a much-needed economic boost, the Olympics only brought about a growing sense of unease as scandals, overrunning budgets in the range of billions, as well as the general lack of empathy towards the wishes of most of Japan’s people, plagued the most recent edition of the Summer Games.
The organisers’ insistence on going forward with the event reinforced the idea that the country’s top leaders did not care what the general public wanted. And after enduring so much, many citizens are now wondering what was the point of the Olympics in the end.
So How Did We Get Here?
While the organisers were hampered by the presence of the coronavirus, it was poor decisions and missteps that ultimately led to a series of resignations among the top echelon in planning the event. Japan is now facing its worst wave of Covid-19 yet and there doesn’t seem to be much change in political leadership as Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s increasingly unpopular prime minister, is looking more and more likely to retain power due to the weak opposition in parliamentary elections set to take place soon.
Though negative opinions about the Games have somewhat mellowed out after the nation got their best-ever medal haul, the government leaders have noticeably dodged questions surrounding what the Olympics have done to benefit the country.
The most critical setback for the Games undoubtedly came from the global pandemic, which forced organisers to delay the sporting event for a year. This would then lead to ballooning costs, massive economic losses, and political disarray.
The total cost due to this setback is unclear. Though, according to the Nomura Research Institute, the absence of spectators alone likely reduced the economic benefit by at least $1.3 billion.
But aside from the pandemic affecting plans, many of the Olympics’ shortcomings came about due to Japan’s own incompetence. From the get-go scandals ranging from bid-rigging to cost overruns to plagiarism to misogynistic comments by the head of the Japanese Olympic committee were rampant. Promoters had made a promise to deliver a reasonably priced, environmentally sound event that could deliver benefits, economy-wise, that would last for years down the line.
Instead, as Tokyo finally fired up its cranes, cement mixers, and bulldozers to start building, the official cost shot up to $14.9 billion from $7.3 billion — just slightly doubled in cost. To exacerbate this overbudget mess of an event, the one-year pandemic delay drove costs up even more (20% to be exact, according to a government report). However, those figures probably did not truly represent the real cost of the Olympics in Tokyo as a government audit conducted before the pandemic already put the price tag at $27 billion.
The initial economic forecasts, on the other hand, now looked to be an overpromised propaganda to win over the people. Official estimates put out forecasts promising nearly two million jobs created and more than $128 billion injected into the local economy from investments, tourism and increased consumption. However, even without Covid-19, those numbers have been stated time and time again that it was an overly optimistic estimate at best and would not have likely happened. When the pandemic arrived, many sponsors of the Olympics decided that they would distance themselves from the event. One of which, was Toyota, one of the country’s most powerful companies that had announced that it would not air its Olympic ads in the domestic market. Other sponsors then followed in Toyota’s footsteps.
Indeed, the losses incurred by this setback are akin to a droplet in Japan’s massive economy. But the ones who are suffering now are the smaller businesses found along the thoroughfares and winding alleys of Tokyo.
Pandemic or not, the reality of the matter was bound to fall short of the grand ol’ expectations set forth by the Japanese leaders.