Failed bids for the win: Does Tokyo have anything to gain from hosting the Olympics?

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Tokyo is a city that easily fits the mold of the repeat Olympic bidders often explored by BID. Though the city did play host to the Summer Olympics in 1964, Tokyo has spent the greater part of the past two decades trying to bring the Olympics back by actively developing their sports culture and capacity to host mega sporting events. The Olympics are of great national significance to Japan as evidenced by the country’s Health and Sports Day, which marks the anniversary of the start to the 1964 Olympics. And while Tokyo’s bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics failed, the city is currently vying against Istanbul and Madrid as one of three finalists to host the 2020 Olympiad.

Tokyo’s mega sporting event resume is impressive and supports the city’s readiness to bring the Summer Olympics back to Japan.  The city successfully hosted this year’s FITA Archery World Cup Final, Yonex Open Japan 2012, and Toray Pan Pacific Open Tennis Tournament all within a 12-day period and is slated to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup. The city’s prioritization of hosting mega-events is also apparent at a national level. The Japanese Olympic Committee submitted a Summer Olympic bid via Osaka for the 2008 Games, which ultimately failed, but the nation has added a number of other significant sporting events to its hosting portfolio. Japan co-hosted with Korea the 2002 FIFA World Cup and hosted the 2006 FIBA World Championship.

With this backdrop, the President of the Japanese Olympic Committee, Tsunekazu Takeda, has said, “If given the chance, we guarantee that Tokyo will be fully prepared to stage the world’s biggest sporting event in eight years’ time.”

So what has come of all this mega-event planning and preparation over the past few decades? Has the average person in Japan benefited from the touted gains of hosting such global events—particularly as it results to infrastructure development? 

Tokyo has long maintained a reputation for fast and efficient public transportation. The city has accomplished this through a comprehensive set of options, which include an extensive rail and subway network, as well as buses and streetcars together serving approximately 29 million people daily. The city has seen significant growth and development in public transport over the past few decades. After its opening in January 2012, it was stated that the “Dinosaur Bridge” is expected to bring $246 million in economic benefits a year by cutting journey times in Tokyo Bay. Tokyo’s unsuccessful 2016 bid has been credited with spurring projects for a ring road and two loop lines expected to reduce traffic and improve transit for the city’s 35 million commuters. Further examination into Tokyo’s transit development strategy and financing is needed before connecting all the dots. A “perfect storm” of other factors have played into Tokyo’s urban development. However, Japanese urban plans may be considered successful for having increased the capacity and efficacy of Tokyo’ public transportation system. All of this progress came despite the city’s failed 2016 bid.

So, Japanese commuters are better off than they were two decades ago. But that begs the question, what is there to gain from the 2020 Olympics in terms of infrastructure when Japan is already capable of handling the demands of crowds of Olympic proportions?

There is, of course, the proposed new stadium with a retractable roof that comes with a $1.6 billion price tag, as well as the frequently touted but seldom realized economic gains from playing host to the Olympics. Linkages have also been made to the need for nation building through development for the Olympics though improvements in Tokyo would likely do little to benefit people suffering elsewhere in Japan from the 2011 earthquake and resulting disasters. 

While all of the direct correlations to the Olympics bid process are difficult to pinpoint, it is clear that Tokyo has developed a strong infrastructure for its people. Further, the city has hosted a number of mega-events without the negative legacies of the “white elephants” that too often result from the Games. From BID’s perspective, Tokyo has experienced infrastructure “triumphs” over the course of history without ever hosting the Games. 

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