Opinion | The Olympics Are On! But Why?

TOKYO — The torch relay run that has opened the Olympics since 1936 began on Thursday from Fukushima, Japan, delayed by a yr due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Video games can be held this summer season, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga mentioned on Sunday, “as a proof of humanity’s victory over the novel coronavirus” — regardless that there isn’t any signal that Japan, not to mention humanity, will defeat the coronavirus any time quickly.

Japan has fared better than america and plenty of European international locations, with about 450,000 instances of an infection and about 8,900 deaths in a inhabitants of about 125 million. However an infection charges are creeping up, and the vaccine rollout has been painfully slow.

As of March 21, Japan ranked last for inoculations per capita among the many 37 international locations of the Group for Financial Cooperation and Growth; just 0.3 percent of the population has obtained a shot, in keeping with Bloomberg. There may be just about no likelihood that Japanese folks can be vaccinated in massive sufficient numbers by the point the Olympics are supposed to begin in late July.

Final week, Japan introduced that spectators from overseas could be barred from attending the Video games. The choice seems to have been partly a concession to public opinion: In a single survey early this month, 77 p.c of respondents opposed allowing foreign fans. In accordance with another poll, solely 9 p.c of respondents mentioned the Video games ought to proceed as scheduled; 32 p.c mentioned they need to be canceled.

So why is Japan going forward with the Olympics, in opposition to the general public’s objections, whereas the pandemic continues to be a significant public well being concern? The reply is acquainted: collusion among the many elites.

Mr. Suga’s time period as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Celebration ends in September and legislative elections have to be referred to as by late October. He appears to be relying on a media blitz with feel-good results across the Video games to enhance his sagging popularity. He inherited from Shinzo Abe final yr a main ministership tainted by numerous scandals — and has added some of his own.

Mr. Suga was Mr. Abe’s enforcer-in-chief, thanks partly to his agency grip on the media. He was the minister of inner affairs and communications in the course of the first Abe authorities (2006-07) and the chief cupboard secretary and chief spokesman in the course of the second (2012-20). Throughout that latter stint, Japan’s rating in Reporters With out Borders’ World Press Freedom Index fell from 22 to 66.

Mr. Suga is a dominant determine on this iron triangle of Japanese politics: the Liberal Democratic Celebration, the Ministry of Inner Affairs and Communications and the media trade. And that community’s view right now is that the Olympics present should go on in any respect price, with or with out abroad spectators.

Take Dentsu, the largest advertising and public relations company in Japan and the Tokyo 2020 Video games’ unique advertising company. Shun Sakurai, a former vice minister on the Ministry of Inner Affairs, is now the corporate’s government vp and consultant director. That transition — from a senior submit in a ministry to a post-retirement place in an organization regulated by that ministry — is named “amakudari,” descent from heaven.

Dentsu has intimate ties with the Liberal Democratic Celebration. In accordance with an analysis of the party’s mandatory funding filings by the Japanese Communist Celebration, the L.D.P. paid $100 million to Dentsu between 2000 and 2018. Dentsu, in flip, has made lavish donations to the celebration’s election marketing campaign. The corporate has additionally been embroiled in a scandal over an opaque contract to handle the distribution of a $20 billion government Covid-relief package.

Dentsu’s involvement with Japan’s Olympics are deep and deeply problematic. French prosecutors say that the Tokyo bid committee paid a former Dentsu government greater than $8 million to bribe members of the International Olympic Committee. Dentsu can also be a advertising associate of the I.O.C., a potential breach of the committee’s guidelines about conflicts of interest.

Tokyo 2020 is essentially the most closely sponsored occasion within the Video games’ historical past, with $3.1 billion raised from Japanese corporations — because of Dentsu. Among the many home sponsors are Japan’s 5 nationwide newspapers: Asahi, Yomiuri, Mainichi, Nikkei and Sankei. Every has its personal affiliated broadcasting networks, immediately or by way of subsidiaries. These networks are regulated by the Ministry of Inner Affairs and depend on Dentsu to promote prime-time promoting slots.

The pandemic may nonetheless derail the Tokyo Olympics. Athletes and celebrities alike have pulled out of the torch relay run over an infection issues, and a few nationwide groups might withdraw from the competitors altogether. If the Video games are held, nonetheless, that can be a feat of entrenched collusion amongst Japan’s political and media elites, and a victory for his or her efforts to shift public opinion in time for the following election.

Koichi Nakano is a professor of political science at Sophia College in Tokyo.

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