The Olympics are a success for Japanese athletes, not for its Prime Minister
(Bloomberg) – As the curtain falls on the Tokyo Olympics, delayed and reduced by the coronavirus, Japanese athletes can see it as a triumph, having won more gold medals than ever before. For Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, this is more of a disappointment, one that is unlikely to improve his chances in a looming general election or give the economy a boost.
We take a look at how the unprecedented sports spectacle performed on a number of metrics.
The Tokyo Games were originally dubbed the No-Fun Olympics due to unprecedented public health restrictions that limited the movement of athletes to sports venues and their residences. They underwent daily testing, ate in mess rooms with seats individually separated by plastic shields, and largely stayed away from the general public. Many also struggled with the sweltering summer heat.
In competition, a few small nations roared like San Marino, with around 34,000 people, which became the least populous nation to win a medal when Alessandra Perilli won bronze in women’s trap shooting. Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz won the first gold medal for the Philippines, which have competed in the Olympics since 1924 and Norwegian Karsten Warholm had one of the games’ most memorable celebrations when he won the 400-meter hurdles men and ripped his shirt after crossing the line in record time.
Japan recorded their best Olympic run ever, winning more than 20 gold medals on Friday.
Suga has repeatedly promised “safe and secure” games, even though many feared that inviting tens of thousands of people from around the world would result in a supercasting event.
Organizers reported a total of 382 Covid-19 infections directly linked to the Olympics as of August 6, with visitors making up just over a third of the total. But the event coincided with an increase in national cases to their worst level since the start of the pandemic.
Experts said the staging of the games led to a more relaxed atmosphere which may have made the public less attentive to the virus measures, and thus contributed to the problem.
Few world leaders showed up at the opening ceremony of a match that went almost entirely without spectators, meaning Suga lost the opportunity to polish his diplomatic credentials.
At home, as public interest in the games has grown alongside Japan’s record medal count, Suga is unlikely to be credited with continuing the event in the face of public opposition.
The most recent poll, released two days after the opening ceremony, found support for Cabinet Suga at 34% – its lowest since taking office in September. As the opposition lacks enough support to oust his Liberal Democrats, Suga risks losing seats in a general election due to be held by the end of November.
The Tokyo Games were believed to be a major driver for the world’s third-largest economy, with the event closely linked to the government’s pre-pandemic plans to attract 40 million foreign visitors a year. This led to a construction boom in the years leading up to the Olympics, including the eight new venues built for the Games.
Everything changed as the virus hit, with expected increases in ticket sales, hotel stays and restaurants fading after borders tightened and organizers decided to ban largely even national spectators.
Economists gave a series of estimates of the actual economic impact, with Bloomberg Economics’ Yuki Masujima projecting around 1.7 trillion yen ($ 15.5 billion), including the amount spent on infrastructure for the events. Kenji Kanda, of the Daiwa Research Institute, notes that there are hopes that the Olympics will support domestic demand after Japan won gold.
As the games started, supermarket sales increased, possibly because people stayed home to watch the games and treated themselves to somewhat nicer take-out meals, Kanda said.
Winning a record number of gold medals would normally be good news for investors – analysts have shown how the Nikkei 225 Stock Average almost always rises when Japan scores double-digit gold.
This time around, stocks barely moved during the games, with the stock market’s benchmark trading near year-round lows. The index is among the worst performing among developed markets this year.
The latest wave of Covid cases may have held back an expected recovery. Some predict that if things get worse, the expected scenario of an economic recovery in the fall might even be irrelevant. Others insist that the growing number of vaccinations and the still low death toll in the current wave means the outlook from September is bright as the economy reopens.
Equality and diversity
Japan hosted the diversity-themed games without passing a long-promised law intended to promote understanding of LGBT issues, frustrating activists who saw the event as a chance to move forward. With the selection of biracial Japanese tennis champion Naomi Osaka to light the Olympic flame eliciting both praise and criticism, the games proved to be an opportunity for the media to focus on a range of equality issues in the world. Japan and around the world.
British diving gold medalist Tom Daley – a gay man – became a social media favorite in Japan as much for knitting in the stands as for his athletic prowess, while trans New Zealand athlete Laurel Hubbard was a lightning rod for arguments about equity and inclusion. It’s unclear if all of this will translate into concrete change for under-represented groups in Japan.
Tokyo 2020 organizers said ahead of the games that the event would not only be carbon neutral, but carbon negative, through the use of carbon credits. A further reduction in the carbon footprint is expected due to the organization of the games largely without spectators, with a final calculation to be made after the event.
An analysis published in the journal Nature Sustainability this year found that the sustainability of the Olympics has declined over time, with Sochi 2014 and Rio de Janeiro 2016 being the least sustainable.
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