Bid for Olympic Games as a Celebration of Peace, Part 3

Hope rests on the potent appeal of the A-bombed cities

by the Olympics Issues Reporting Team

"The great number of reporters reminds me of the 'Whistle of the Middle East' incident," quipped the Japan Olympic Committee (JOC) Secretary General Noriyuki Ichihara on the evening of October 13. There were some 100 reporters and photographers at the press conference after Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba paid a visit to Mr. Ichihara at the JOC Headquarters in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.

"The Whistle of the Middle East" refers to some dubious judgments made by referees at handball qualifiers of the Asian region, which were held in 2007, for the Beijing Olympics. Mr. Ichihara, who is also vice president of the Japan Handball Association, hails from Higashi Hiroshima, Hiroshima Prefecture. He was comparing the close media attention paid to the possible bid by Hiroshima and Nagasaki to host the 2020 Olympic Games to that of the handball incident.

After meeting with executive members of the JOC, Mayor Akiba said with a smile that he received a very warm welcome. After hearing about the meeting, JOC President Tsunekazu Takeda, answered reporters' questions, saying it is welcome news that there are new candidates hoping to host the Olympic Games.

Despite the welcoming comment on the surface, JOC members in general are skeptical of the feasibility of the "Peace Olympics."

One of the members of the executive board commented that, in Tokyo's bid to host the 2016 games, the plan was to have most facilities located within an 8-kilometer radius, and the International Olympic Committee rated the compact plan for the Games highly. This member is doubtful about the notion of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and other cities hosting the games collectively. The Olympic Charter stipulates that only one city from each country can bid for the Games, and some IOC members are unenthusiastic about the idea of multiple cities serving as host.

Tetsuo Tatsugawa, 74, former member of the executive board of the 1994 Hiroshima Asian Games Organizing Committee, said, based on his experience, "More than 200 countries and regions take part in the Olympics. Simply put, the Olympics would take five times as much energy as the effort needed for the Asian Games." He went on to point out such practical concerns as financial backing.

Hirofumi Hirano, chief cabinet secretary, declined to comment, adopting a wait-and-see stance. The prevailing wisdom seems to be that it will ultimately be difficult for Hiroshima and Nagasaki to officially announce a bid to host the Olympics.

At the same time, one potential merit of these cities competing as a team is the powerful message they can convey. John Roos, the U.S. ambassador to Japan and a close aide of President Barack Obama, offered praise for the efforts being made by the mayors of the two cities. Tokyo failed in its bid to host the 2016 Games, but Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara commented: "A bid by the two cities would be of great significance and a strong appeal for the ideal of peace."

Tokyo lost despite its solid financial footing. Governor Ishihara apparently saw some hope in the A-bombed cities' potent appeal. Tokyo has not yet clearly indicated whether it will bid again for the 2020 Games. If Tokyo should support Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this would have an important impact on the national government and the JOC.

Jun Ikushima, a sportswriter, who has covered many Olympic Games, said, "The relation between peace and the Olympics is a simple and powerful message, but if politics are brought to the foreground, the IOC would very likely be turned off."

By October 16, the City of Hiroshima had received about 150 messages in regard to its bid, including email, telephone calls and faxes. City officials expressed surprise at receiving so many messages from around the country, the first time this had happened over the past several years.

The vision of hosting the Olympic Games, which has emerged in connection with mounting international support for the elimination of nuclear weapons, is only a dream at this point. For this dream to have a realistic chance of success, two things are vital: support from in and out of Japan, which is strong enough to overcome the constraints of the Olympic Charter, and the citizens' will to bear the great financial burden.

2020 Summer Olympics host city selection schedule
The Japan Olympic Committee will decide Japan's candidate city by 2010. The International Olympic Committee Board will select five candidate cities by 2012. The candidate cities will give presentations at the IOC General Meeting scheduled for 2013, and the host city will be determined by the vote of IOC members. Rome, Italy and Doha, Qatar, have announced their intention to bid. By next spring, Hiroshima and Nagasaki will make their final decision as to whether they will bid or not.

(Originally published on October 17, 2009)