The Sports Examiner: The Tokyo Games will be long remembered, but now Paris has the burden of re-energizing the Olympic Movement

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Thank you, Tokyo. With the closing of the Paralympic Games on Sunday, the service of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee and especially the Tokyo Metropolitan Government will be long remembered by the International Olympic Committee and the Olympic Movement,  for persevering where others might have quit.

Tokyo did not, and it won.

Yes, there will be costs. First will be the tab for putting on the Olympic and Paralympic Games without spectators, missing an estimated $819 million in expected ticket revenue. But a Kansai University emeritus economics professor has already estimated the benefits of holding the Games at almost $56 billion vs. a net cost of construction and operations of about $29.8 billion. Time will tell.

There were losers. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, unpopular due to the government’s uneven response to the coronavirus pandemic, announced last Friday that he will retire at the end of September. But his Liberal Democratic Party is expected to continue in power, with elections scheduled for 29 September.

But the organizers and the Japanese government kept their promise on keeping Olympic and Paralympic personnel away from the public. To its credit, Tokyo 2020 issued daily reports for more than a month, listing testing figures and positive tests:

● Of the 15,500-plus Olympic and Paralympic athletes in Tokyo, a total of 42 Covid positives were reported.

● Through 4 September, the Japanese government conducted 54,214 airport tests with 54 positives for an infection rate of 0.10%.

● Through 4 September, the Tokyo 2020 organizers completed 993,268 daily tests of accredited personnel, with 309 positives (0.03%).

● The Tokyo 2020 staff of more than 7,000 and more than 70,000 volunteers – almost all from Japan – recorded just 67 total positives.

● Of the grand total of 511 Olympic and 306 Paralympic positives reported – 817 total – local contractors, resident in Japan, accounted for 469 or 57.0% of the total. Another 190 were Games-related personnel such as coaches and competition officials and 49 were news media.

Kyodo News reported that Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a news conference that not a single infection spread from individuals related to the Games to the Japanese public.

Now comes Paris, in 2024.

Its challenge will be completely different. After the anxiety of the first-ever postponement of an entire Olympic Games and the staging of two massive events during a state of emergency in Tokyo and the surrounding areas, the French organizers must re-establish the joie de vivre that usually envelops an Olympic Games.

Perhaps no city in the world is so well positioned to do so. In the handover program during the Tokyo Closing Ceremony, Paris 2024 promised joy, describing its (by necessity) pre-recorded segment:

“This first Paris 2024 ceremony took the Games out of the stadium: from the national anthem, which was integrated for the first time in the creative sequence, to a BMX race over the rooftops of Paris, to a live celebration in the gardens of the Trocadero attended by more than 5,000 people. Paris 2024 wanted this ceremony to be a meeting of sport and the new host city, from its iconic landmarks to its everyday spaces.”

The Paris organizers, led by three-time Olympic canoeing champion Tony Estanguet, 43, have emphasized their new approach, especially the important addition of public-participation events to accompany at least the marathons, if not the road cycling events and perhaps more.

And this is only the beginning, as Paris 2024 promises:

“[T]he project’s ambition [is] to take sport out of its traditional spaces. The Paris 2024 Games will be open to the city, with temporary competition venues at the foot of the most famous French landmarks and the first Opening Ceremony in the history of the Games to take place in the city, at the heart of Paris, on the Seine.”

On the Seine? Really? That would be something to see, not to mention a logistical and security nightmare of the first order. But the Paris organizers have shown a willingness to consider anything. And so far, the French public is buying in.

An IFOP Institute public poll of 1,018 French adults from 9-11 August showed 82% in favor of the 2024 hosting. Within that number was a 92% positive response from those aged 18-24.

The next three years will not be stress free. Small groups of activists are trying – so far without success – to block some of the infrastructure spending approved for the Games. There will be charges and countercharges. And things will look darker in February when the Winter Games take place in China, widely criticized for its human-rights record.

Whatever Paris can do to bring more joy to the Games will be desperately needed. Food? Wine? Design? Fashion? Music? Dance? Yes to all. And the logistics to back it up are, in significant ways, now directly in the hands of the International Olympic Committee. The IOC now controls, for the most part, ticketing, hospitality and accommodations. A more seamless, streamlined process is promised, but what will be delivered? For those with lots of money … and for those with less, like family members of the Olympians and Paralympians.

There is great opportunity, but also great pressure. Bonne chance.

Meanwhile, the cruelest outcome of many an Olympic Games is that once closed, the organizing committee is almost immediately, totally forgotten. But Tokyo 2020 chief Seiko Hashimoto, 56, herself a member of the Japanese Diet and whose political standing will rise, told reporters that she would be willing to lead a potential Sapporo 2030 Olympic Winter Games organizing committee if the city is selected as host.

That decision is coming in year or two and after what she and her colleagues have done for the Olympic Movement, it will be hard to tell her – a 1992 Winter Games bronze medalist in Speed Skating – and Japan that it cannot get another opportunity … if it wishes to host so soon again.

~ Rich Perelman

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