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Olympics as a symbol of ultra-democracy

Yoshiyuki Mano
Professor, Faculty of Sport Sciences, Waseda University

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is a non-profit organization recognized by domestic Swiss law. This makes the IOC different from the United Nations (UN), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) and other international institutions which feature participation from the governments of different countries. The members of international institutions are nations. In contrast, the members of the IOC are private individuals who are members of the IOC. The IOC, a group of private individuals, holds the Olympic Games. As in the recent London Olympics, these games enthrall people throughout the world.

The site for the Olympics is a city, not a country. Cities which wish to host the Olympics apply directly to the IOC and submit a summary plan to the IOC. After surveys are held by working groups within the IOC, the host city is determined through a vote by IOC members at the IOC General Meeting held 7 years before the start of the games. In other words, the site of the Olympics is selected and determined by private individuals, not by national governments.

Amidst such conditions, host cities become overzealous and attempt to buy IOC members. During the application process for the Salt Lake City Olympics, 6 IOC members were expelled. However, IOC members are not international civil servants and therefore are not punished for the crime of bribery. Even so, since the IOC promotes the concept of fair play and strictly enforces fair play among Olympic athletes, it is unreasonable for the IOC to not also strictly enforce fair play off the pitch. Accordingly, as a response to the incidents of bribery, the IOC has created a variety of regulations for selection among the application host cities, and is seeking to establish a fair and transparent selection process.

It is true that only domestic Swiss law applies to the IOC and that IOC members are composed of non-profit organizations. However, IOC members must have a moral sense which is even greater than that of international civil servants. This is because the financial resources for IOC activities come from broadcasting rights income and sponsor income. Sponsor income exists because numerous corporations are attracted to the clean image of the Olympics, and broadcast rights income exists because people throughout the world want to see this clean competition at the Olympics. The IOC's financial resources come from private funding, which makes the Olympic brand extremely important. Of course, the purpose of the IOC is to spread the Olympism throughout the world, not to conduct economic activities. The Olympic movement is activities to spread Olympism throughout world. The apex of this movement is competition at the Olympic Games.

In this way, the Olympics are decided by private voting. Considering this fact, what must Tokyo do in its quest to host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo? Currently, Madrid (Spain) and Istanbul (Turkey) have also applied to host the games. What must Tokyo do in order to differentiate itself from these other candidates and to convince the IOC of Tokyo's superiority?

In May 2012, the IOC Working Group conducted a survey and assessment of 5 applicant cities (Tokyo, Istanbul, Madrid, Doha, Baku). As a result, the applicants were refined to 3 candidate cities. The assessment of the 3 candidate cities at that time is shown in the chart below.

Chart 1: Results of IOC Working Group assessment of applicant cities for 2020 Olympics

Among the 3 candidate cities, Tokyo received the highest assessment for the following five items: 3. Athlete village, 4. International broadcasting center/main press center, 7. Lodging, 10. Security, and 15. Financing/marketing. Istanbul was ranked highest in only one category: 14. Government/citizen support. Madrid was ranked highest for the following four items: 2. Venue location concept/competition venues, 5. Competition experience, 6. Environment/weather, and 12. Energy.

These results are from the stage of refining the applicant cities into candidate cities. Accordingly, the scores shown above are not carried forward into the final assessment. Still, the above assessment shows weak areas which Tokyo must overcome during its bid for the games. These weak areas are the items for which Istanbul and Madrid received the highest scores. The host city for the 2020 Olympic Games will be selected during the IOC General Meeting held in Buenos Aires on September 7th, 2013. Until then, Tokyo must focus its efforts on areas which can be improved. Conversely, lower priority can be given to the following items which cannot be improved before the general meeting: 5. Competition experience, 6. Environment/weather, and 12. Energy. Effort should be made to address the following areas: 2. Venue location concept/competition venues and 14. Government/citizen support.

Regarding "2. Venue location concept/competition venues," further improvements must be made to the plan for hosting the games in a compact area of 8 kilometers. Furthermore, it is possible to include renewal of major competition venues, including renovation of the National Stadium in Tokyo. Such action must be taken before the deadline for final application to the IOC on January 7th, 2013. In actuality, a design competition for the National Stadium in Tokyo should be held in November and the designer should be determined. This will make it possible to clearly indicate a concept for a new National Stadium when submitting the final application.

Regarding "14. Government/citizen support," government bidding for international athletic competitions and national support for the holding of such competitions is clearly indicated in Article 27 of the Basic Sports Act which was enacted in August 2011. This makes it possible for Tokyo to appeal the receipt of even strong government support, including past Cabinet approval.

Now, how about the issue of citizen support? Figure 1 shows results released by the IOC in May 2012. The percentage of citizens in the prospective host cities and surrounding areas who responded "Agree" when asked about holding the Olympic Games was 78% for Madrid and 75% for Istanbul, but only 43% for Tokyo. The reason for this low percentage was the 30% of Tokyo cities who answered "Undecided," the highest percentage out of all the cities. If the percentage of "Undecided" responses in Tokyo was equal to the 25% percentage in Istanbul, then Tokyo would have an "Agree" percentage of 52%. If it was equal to the 5% in Madrid, then Tokyo's "Agree" percentage would rise to 72%. It could be said that the tendency to respond "Undecided" when asked for an opinion is a national characteristic of Japanese people. However, in order to make a successful bid for the Olympics, converting this neutral portion into agreement is a key point.

Figure 1: Poll taken by the IOC (conducted by IFM Sports Marketing Surveys)

Prior to the next IOC survey which will be held in February or March of 2013, specific measures are need to convince the neural population regarding the importance of holding the Olympic Games in Tokyo. In addition to action by the government and related organizations, it is important for ordinary citizens who support holding the games in Tokyo to spread the meaning of the Olympic Games through word-of-mouth.

Regarding the meaning of holding the Olympic Games in Tokyo, important perspectives include tourism, urban development and the opportunity to watch the competition first-hand. Furthermore, an extremely important point for Japanese people is to set 2020 as a target for completing the difficult task of recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake. During the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan could shown the results of reconstruction and express its gratitude to countries which provided aid.

Moreover, on a global scale, holding the Olympics in Tokyo would promote security in East Asia and in the Pacific Rim. Japan is one of the most unique civilizations in the world. It is important for Japanese people to understand that holding the Olympics in a country like Japan would contribute to preventing clashes between eastern and western civilization.

By widely and deeply conveying both in Japan and overseas the meaning of hosting the Olympics in Tokyo, it will be possible to increase the percentage of support from citizens.

In this age, the Olympics are no longer simply a mega-sporting event. As Jacques Attali indicated in his book A Brief History of the Future, the Olympic Games in the future will be a clean symbol of ultra-democracy. Japanese people should convey to the IOC Committee that the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will become a signpost towards this new future.

Yoshiyuki Mano
Professor, Faculty of Sport Sciences, Waseda University

Born in Yokohama City in 1963. Completed his master's course at the Graduate School of Education in the University of Tokyo in 1991. Ph.D. After working at the Mitsubishi Research Institute, Inc., he spent time as Associate Professor in the School of Human Sciences and the School of Sport Sciences in Waseda University from 2002. He has been the Professor of the Faculty of Sport Sciences since 2009. He serves as an executive and adviser for a great number of sports organizations: Representative Director of the Japan Athlete Forum, Director of the Japan Volleyball League Organization and Director of the Japan Basketball League, among others. He is the author of Management of Public Sports Facilities and the co-author of The Economics of Sports.