Representatives of future hosts touring Tokyo in the IOC's Tokyo 2020 experience. The program gives participants a behind-the-scenes, first-hand experience and insight into various operational aspects of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Photo credit: IOC Flickr page/Michael Reeves

Ending Olympic ceremony in Tokyo reveals the real winners and losers . . . Olympic-hosting cities

Already, the stakes are high for Olympic-hosting cities. But, Tokyo’s attempt to hold successful Games in a pandemic uncovered decades of profound losses when hosting cities seek large financial gain. 

One side of the Olympic coin

Dealing with a year’s postponement of the Olympic games due to the pandemic, Japan faced many obstacles leading into the summer games. While billions of dollars were lost, and more was spent on keeping infection numbers low in the Olympic village, Tokyo’s tallying of the profits, if any, is still to come.

As Tokyo concluded the opening ceremony for the Olympics, demonstrators outside protested. To them, the games would do more harm than the purported good it espouses. “Medical and financial resources are being taken by this huge sports games,” said research professor Isako Motoyama to NPR at a protest outside of Tokyo’s National Stadium. She, like others, expressed concern about the health of a city still working on decreasing COVID-19 infections.

Throughout the games, infection numbers did increase. To address the rise of COVID-19, the Tokyo Olympic committee doubled down on its measures. With less than 25 percent of residents vaccinated and no mandate for athletes to have received a jab, the city continued its state of emergency when the spike in infection numbers reached an all-time high in late July.

With the added stress of keeping everyone in the Olympic bubble healthy, the searing heat forced officials to take extra steps to cool off athletes and other participants. To address the high temperatures, organizers who said that Tokyo would be the “greenest” Olympics ever, used sun-blocking paint from NASA, and other more traditional tactics like misting machines.

But, the extra care to the Olympic village caused concern for Tokyo residents. Leading up to this summer’s games, 83 percent of Tokyo residents surveyed expressed disagreement with the games happening during a pandemic. To worsen matters, the government bulldozed affordable housing units to build the National Stadium, then gutted the Tsukiji fish market, for the arena’s parking lot. Ironically, most events were closed to spectators.

“I thought that would be my final home,” said a woman in her 90s to The Nation. She was amongst 300 households evicted to build the $2 billion sports stadium.

Ironically, the woman whose name was kept anonymous was one of several who had also been displaced for Tokyo’s redevelopment efforts for the 1964 Olympics. Her story marked a very long history of the social and political expenses of the Olympics that often vanish when the games erupt. However, this year is different.

Those who brought light to the issues with the human costs of the Olympics were persistent and loud during the games. With the added help of social media, anti-Olympic protestors all over the world, voiced their dissent of not just Tokyo’s games, but all the games. The demonstrators who call for canceling the Olympics are called “NOlympians.” At the center of their critique—the sports competitions are inconsequential events to a larger agenda for the political elites and big business to make big profits.

Jules Boykoff, an Oregon professor who was once an Olympian called the International Olympic Committee “a multibillion-dollar behemoth” at an anti-Olympics stance in the U.S. A far cry from an organization that promotes unity and diversity through competition, the IOC is all about the money. Business Insider reported that the IOC profited nearly $6 billion from 2005 to 2008.

In all, the IOC, which is a private non-private, is a global industrial complex that makes its money from sponsorships, licensing and ticketing given by the local committee of the host city organizing the year of the games. Added, it banks revenue from the multiple streams of broadcasting around the world.

Arranging transportation in the Olympic village. Tokyo 2020 was the fourth time Japan hosted the Olympics. It is the most out of any Asian country. Photo credit: IOC Flickr page/Matthew Jordan

Other side of the game

While some point out that the Olympics is a “hemorrhaging endeavor” for host countries, there is another side. Hosts of the Olympics are almost guaranteed an economic boost from tourism. Leading up to the 2016 Olympics, Brazil was the tenth largest economy in the world but is one of the nations facing disproportionate poverty levels, with growing unemployment and a shrinking economy. Yet, the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games garnered the nation a global audience of five billion in 200 countries. More than 56 percent of foreign travelers for the Games were first-time visitors to Brazil, setting records with more than six 6  million foreign tourists and $6.2 billion dollars made.

“It is great, if we have the Olympics every three months, it would be even better,” affirmed a vendor of the famous Brazilian coconut water during Rio’s games. “ I have sold more coconut water in weeks than I normally would in months.”

Subsequent to the 2012 London Summer Olympics, England welcomed more than one visitor every second in June 2013; a 12 percent increase over the previous year. Tourists also spent more than $2.57 billion in June, a 13 percent increase, and $12.1 billion in the first half of 2013.

To add on, China was the designated host of the Beijing 2008 Summer Games. Thereafter, they negotiated with the World Trade Organization to open trade. Also following a successful 1955 bid for the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy joined the United Nations and began the Messina negotiations that led to the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC). The 1964 Tokyo Summer Games led to Japan’s entry into the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International economic organization (OECD).

On the flip side

The Olympic games have demonstrated deleterious effects on the host countries, too. Neighborhoods adjoining Maracana stadium were destroyed during the 2016 Rio games, forcing many to relocate. Reportedly, coercion was also used to drive away from the residents. Subsequently resulting in a blood-spattered dispute between the police and residents.

“When the Olympic Park was planned for this area of Rio, there was not much of a surprise when the city came in with eminent domain eviction orders. [The Brazilian government] telling these communities that they would be moved to public housing complexes, usually far out of sight from any International visitors,” stated John Harris from Vox Media.

Similarly, Bejing’s 2008 Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium cost the city $11 million a year to maintain while most of the 91,000 seats remain empty. In addition, an estimated 1.5 million people were evicted from their homes with minimal compensation to make way for the Olympics in 2008.

There were even hopes for a more liberal China following years of a prohibitive communist regime environment and strict media regulations. Authorities pledged political and economic reforms after the Games, promising to lift some internet restrictions and allow demonstrations in official “protest zones.” A few months after the Games were over, China reblocked international news sites and increased media censorship. Allegedly, journalistic freedom has greatly reduced since.

Moreover, Greece’s parliament member, Sofia Sakorafa, made remarks regarding entrepreneurs and developers getting rich quickly while leaving behind rotting installations post-2004 games in Athens. She stated that the city did not have the money to maintain the art.

“We should have done this job in a better way. Overplanning always means more money, there has been a strong exaggeration in certain facilities, and a lack of planning for the future,” said former General Secretary for sports Panagiotis Bixtaxis.

While the Olympic legacy will undeniably live on, the visible outcomes remain for generations to come. However, reflections on whether hosting the Olympic Games serve a worthwhile intent, linger on.

Kaia Shivers contributed to this article.

Nyawira Mithayo

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