Comment: The Olympic Games, politics, and peace

by Makoto Iwasaki, Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

Hiroshima Prefecture will serve as the location of Mexico’s pre-games training camps ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. This will surely strengthen the ties between Mexico and Hiroshima.

It has been reported that people involved in these training camps visited the Peace Memorial Museum and said that holding them in the A-bombed city holds special significance. This may be because Mexico is one of the countries that supports a treaty which would ban nuclear weapons.

Sports and politics are strongly linked, and this is especially true in the case of Hiroshima. When I covered the Asian Games held in Hiroshima in 1994, I was left with an uncomfortable feeling about the efforts to convey messages of peace.

A group of women from the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives prepared leis of paper cranes to be offered to athletes when they entered the athletes’ village in Asaminami Ward. The idea was initiated by a female survivor of the atomic bombing who went to the same junior high school as the well-known victim Sadako Sasaki. But the games’ organizing committee requested that the message which accompanied the leis make no direct mention of Sadako or the atomic bombing. As a result, the message only expressed the women’s hope for lasting peace in the world.

The organizing committee seemed hesitant to tell the athletes about the damage caused by the atomic bombing. The committee was opposed to a plan for the athletes’ village where a booth to distribute information about the Peace Memorial Park would have been created. Was this out of political consideration for China, which is a nuclear power, or for those countries which suffered under Japanese aggression during the war? Still, it was reassuring that many athletes and officials visited the museum.

The opening ceremony of the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games held last summer is still fresh in our minds. Since the ceremony started shortly before 8:15 a.m., the time the atomic bombing of Hiroshima took place, the City of Hiroshima and others requested that a moment of silence be observed. But the idea was rebuffed because the International Olympic Committee believed this would be a political act.

What will happen three years from now in Tokyo? Prime Minister Shinzo Abe makes no attempt to hide his intention of linking the Tokyo Games to constitutional amendments, which is a domestic political issue entirely unrelated to the Olympics. We are beginning to grow concerned about what sort of messages will be sent from the A-bombed nation during this festival of peace. At that time, Hiroshima and Nagasaki will both observe the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings of our cities: on August 6 in Hiroshima and on August 9 in Nagasaki, the day of the closing ceremony.

(Originally published on May 18, 2017)