More than self interest driving Japan’s stance — academic

Why is the ruling elite pressing ahead with plans to host the Tokyo Olympics in the midst of a global pandemic and in the face of such widespread opposition?

It is the multibillion-dollar question.

And there are billions in TV rights at stake.

The International Olympic Committee depends on those funds. And Japan could be presented with a rather large bill if it breaches its contract to stage the Games.

Roy Starrs
Roy Starrs
But University of Otago associate professor Roy Starrs argues there are historical, cultural and political reasons at play as well as self-interest.

A recent opinion poll suggested 80% of Japanese want the Olympics to be postponed or cancelled.

It is opinion that is grounded in a dire reality.

Japan is struggling with a fourth wave of Covid. The world is struggling with new variants of Covid.

The global average of daily reported cases have more than doubled from July when the Olympics were initially scheduled.

"No matter how much popular opposition there is to holding the Games, the Japanese Government ... is not in the habit of following the will of the people," Starrs said.

"There are no precedents for that in Japanese history.

"Japan has always had a very hierarchical, top-down political power structure in which the ruling elite ... make all the decisions on behalf of a rather passive and compliant populace."

Starrs suggested the Government may have decided cancelling the Games would represent a "wasteful loss of a huge financial investment but also a major international loss of face and a major blow to national pride".

A cultural trait often remarked upon is that the Japanese can be "reluctant to change direction, even if they may seem to be courting disaster," he added.

It is seen as a sign of weakness or showing a lack of resolve in a nation where perseverance is valued.

History may also being playing a part in the determination of the ruling class to forge ahead.

Japan had to cancel the 1940 Olympics because of the onset of World War 2.

"But in 1964 they hosted a very successful Olympics and it was kind of Japan’s coming-out party after the ignominy of Japan’s role in the Second World War.

"It was extremely successful politically and diplomatically. It re-established Japan as a good international player.

"Having had that success they are very loath to give up this chance now to show they are still a major player ... and re-establish their standing in the world.

"Of course, if they had to cancel it, it would be the opposite of that and a huge loss of face. This is how I think the political class perceive it."

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