Can Tokyo really afford to host the 2020 Olympic Games?
Japanese PM accused of wasting public money better spent on post-tsunami reconstruction
TOKYO will host the 2020 Olympics after the Japanese capital beat off bids from Madrid and then Istanbul in the race to host the 32nd Olympiad in seven years' time.
In plumping for Tokyo – which first hosted the Games in 1964 – the IOC has given a vote of confidence to a country devastated by the 2011 tsunami that killed more than 18,500 people, and led to a catastrophic leak from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, 140 miles north of Tokyo.
According to The Times, the Japanese bid made much of the tsunami and its effects on the country, leading some in Japan to claim that Shinzo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister, had "exploited the suffering of the region to help to win the bid".
In his pitch to the IOC, Abe explained how he had recently encountered one small boy in Tohoku, the northeast region most badly affected by the tsunami. "He was holding a cherished football, given to him by a footballer from overseas," said Abe. "That ball was not just a football to him, it represented his hope for the future."
The IOC has always had a soft spot for such sentimentality but The Times wonders whether the Japanese government wouldn't have been better spending their time – and money – in reconstructing the large swathes of the country destroyed by the tsunami.
"More than 300,000 people are still living in makeshift temporary shelters in Tohoku," says the paper. "Reconstruction is well behind schedule and fears are growing that a construction bonanza in Tokyo will further drain the area's resources."
While news of the IOC vote was greeted in the capital with a weekend of celebrations, it was met with dismay by many in Tohoku. "It's hard for me to say I'm glad," said one elderly resident. "I want the government to work hard for the stability of our lives rather than the Olympics."
The Guardian concentrates less on the effects of the tsunami and more on the ongoing problems at the Fukushima nuclear plant. "Billions of dollars earmarked for Tokyo 2020 would be better spent on fixing the leaks and decontaminating their irradiated home towns," states the paper.
Only last month, the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power, confessed that 300 tonnes of contaminated groundwater were escaping into the Pacific every day, while there have also been reports of leaks from several storage tanks. As the Guardian reports, many in Japan are furious that the government has bid for the Games for a third time in a decade given that the public debt is "now more than twice the size of its $6 trillion economy".
In declaring that Japan is a "safe pair of hands", Prime Minister Abe has put his reputation on the line, says the Daily Mail. "Some may have concerns about Fukushima [but] let me assure you the situation is under control," he told IOC delegates. "It has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo."
When Norwegian IOC member Gerhard Heiberg asked for more assurances, Abe replied confidently: "It poses no problem whatsoever."
He, and the IOC, will be praying he's proved right. ·