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Tokyo Olympics teeters on the edge of being both a psychological and political drama

David Wharton, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Olympics

TOKYO — No matter how tough the questions get, no matter how many times reporters ask, the person in charge of running the Summer Olympics remains calm. There is a quiet determination in her voice.

The Games are pushing stubbornly ahead despite concerns about surging coronavirus cases in Japan, where only about 20% of residents have been vaccinated. There has been a costly yearlong postponement, a series of scandals and constant public grumbling.

Still, Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee, shows no sign of wavering at news conferences held inside the modernistic, gold-sheathed Tokyo Big Sight tower.

"We promised the world to host the Games," Hashimoto tells the assembled media, insisting that "we have to complete our mission."

The Tokyo Olympics leadership — and the International Olympic Committee — have a reason to remain steadfast. They have a lot riding on the next 17 days.

Billions of dollars in broadcast revenue are at stake, as are political fortunes and a sense of national pride. For good or bad, Tokyo could impact the future of the Olympic movement and, by extension, the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

 

All of this will play out on a world stage beginning with the opening ceremony Friday evening.

"It's a kind of psychological and political drama," says Robert Baade, an economist who studies the Olympics at Lake Forest College in Illinois. "When you study all the outcomes and the dynamics of the relationship between the IOC and Japan, there is so much at play here."

Most of the attention in recent months has focused on financial ramifications. By various estimates, Japan has spent more than $20 billion preparing for the Games and faces a hefty deficit, needing to recoup as much of those costs as possible. But money is only part of the challenge.

The political consequences for Japanese leaders could be steep, with general elections approaching before year's end.

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