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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

The Tokyo Olympics figured to serve as a capstone to former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's tenure, but he abruptly stepped down because of illness last year. That put all the pressure on his successor, Yoshihide Suga.

"What would be the implications for a politician who loses the Games on their watch?" Baade asked.

Opinion polls show that much of the Japanese populace favors another postponement or outright cancellation. There have been scandals involving an overpriced design for the centerpiece stadium and, more recently, the resignation of an opening ceremony composer who admitted bullying a disabled classmate in the past.

The 56-year-old Hashimoto, an Olympic cyclist and speed skater in her youth, took over in February when the former president was ousted for making sexist comments about women.

The headlines will get worse if, over the next few weeks, big-name athletes are yanked from competition and events are canceled because of positive coronavirus tests. A continued surge in public infection rates could signal that organizers have failed to deliver on their promise of a "safe and secure" event.

On a global level, Japan originally bid on the Games hoping for a technological showcase and an opportunity to prove it had recovered from the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused a nuclear plant meltdown in Fukushima.

 

"Mostly, the important thing is the Japanese image, the national branding," says Hirotaka Watanabe, a former diplomat and professor at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. If the Olympics falter, he says, "I'm afraid the world would not appreciate our efforts."

Missteps would be further amplified if, next winter, geographical neighbor and sometime rival China pulls off a successful 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

"It would be a political nightmare," Baade says.

The IOC faces a similar challenge underscored by Wednesday's announcement that the 2032 Summer Games have been awarded to Brisbane.

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