Sports: Organisers vs public opinion

I have written about the Tokyo Olympics in several of these blog posts and while there are so many other things going on in Japan to write about, given the global significance of the Olympic Games, they are hard to ignore. As I have written about before, during this past year, public sentiment in Japan has been turning against the Olympics, with the majority of the population wanting the Games postponed further or just cancelled outright. And yet the Games look to go ahead, albeit potentially without an audience. On 21st May, the International Olympic Committee vice-president John Coates said that the Olympics would go ahead, even if Tokyo remained in a state of emergency.

Now it would seem as if even the Japanese organising committee do not want the games to go ahead. Committee member Kaori Yamaguchi has spoken out against the IOC, saying that the Games would leave a “bitter taste”. However, it is now too late to cancel, and the Games have to go ahead no matter what. One Japanese doctor has said that bringing athletes to Japan amid a pandemic could lead to an “Olympic virus” strain.

Given the widespread opposition to the Games, from the Japanese, many athletes, and the international community, it would seem apparent that the IOC is indifferent to public opinion. In the past week, we have seen another case of where the organisers of a major sports event have not sensed the mood or have simply ignored it in order to focus on profits and media contracts. I am talking about, of course, Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open.

Citing issues with anxiety and a history of depression, Osaka had declined to talk to the media, leading to the tennis tournament’s organisers threatening her with fines, disqualification, and a ban from future tournaments. While the organisers were furious, the media–the ones that are not getting to speak with Osaka–have been largely supportive of her, as have fellow players, and people from all over the world on social media.

Of course, professional sport is a hugely profitable industry and there are media contracts, etc., that organisers have to be aware of. But is this an excuse for them to be tone deaf? What do you think? This isn’t a Japan-specific issue, though with the forthcoming Olympics, perhaps there are additional Japanese contexts that need to be considered.

Before I sign off, moving away from sport, you may be interested to learn about a new video series by the North American Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources. They have created a series of videos to guide people in using a range of online Japanese studies resources/collections. Give it a look!

Image: Melbourne, Australia – 20 January 2020 – Naomi Osaka in her round one match against Marie Bouzkova CZE on Rod Laver Arena. (Photo by Rob Keating). CC BY 2.0. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d2/Australian_Open_2020_%2849837600437%29.jpg

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