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For a country like Japan that has long been haunted by a series of natural and economic disasters, hosting the Olympics should have been the perfect opportunity to boast and reclaim its international status and boost its economy that had been battered by the pandemic. Despite these laudatory aims, a series of scandals and allegations reveal another fundamental aspect of the Olympics that must be scrutinized.

Daunting outlook

Even before the pandemic, the prospect was already disheartening. For one thing, the budget had swollen from a forecasted $7 billion to over $20 billion dollars as the Japanese government continued to squander public funds at the expense of taxpayers. A series of scandals surrounding Olympic organizers also tainted the country’s reputation, stirring outcry over Japan’s lack of awareness toward social issues.

In addition, the pandemic was the ultimate factor that had severely damaged the public mood surrounding the Olympics. The majority of Japanese citizens did not approve of hosting the Olympics amid the pandemic, especially when the country’s vaccine rollout is one of the lowest among developed nations.

According to the New York Times, as of August 8th, just over 30% of the total population is fully vaccinated. Amid the government’s unsuccessful attempt to contain the spread of the Delta variant, Tokyo reached a record number of infections since the start of the pandemic, recording 15,645 new coronavirus cases on August 6th. While Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga reiterated that holding the Olympics did not necessarily contribute to rising infections, Shigeru Omi, the President of the Japanese Community Health Organization Executive Board, tells a different story. “The Olympic has impacted people’s attitude toward the state of emergency,” Omi said. “Declaring the state of emergency while holding the international sports event is a contradictory message (thus, discouraging people from following the rules).”

People are understandably frustrated because, after all these months of financial woes that the government has inflicted on firms and workers, it has made it clear that the Olympics was more important than public health or the domestic economy.

Despite the sheer stupidity of holding the Olympics during the global pandemic, the Japanese government has pushed even harder to make it happen—and, unlike some claim, the financial loss from cancellation was not the primary reason behind the government’s decision to move ahead.

The Olympics of Dentsu, by Dentsu, for Dentsu

The Tokyo Olympics wasn’t meant to benefit the Japanese people; it was primarily for the interests of a few large corporations and businesses colluding with the political class. Among them was Dentsu—a Japanese advertising and public relations firm that has essentially dominated the entire Olympics arrangement, ranging from the initial bidding and sponsor acquisition to commercial ads production and performances planned. According to Ryu Honma, a former journalist and author of How Dentsu is Ripping Off the Nation through the Olympics, Dentsu “has grown so enormous to the point that the general public no longer feels its direct impact on their daily lives…Even when Dentsu won [$4 billion] in sponsor endorsement for this Olympics, the company forced its thousands of volunteers to work for free.”

While Dentsu has clung to profiting itself, the Japanese government has also been complicit in this moneymaking scheme. “Cancelling the Olympics would be a disaster for Dentsu, but through a one-year extended contract, the company can pump up its revenue,” according to another source. “That’s why the Japanese government, along with the IOC, has been desperately fighting against negative views surrounding their one-year extension plan in the name of radiating positivity and promoting the athlete-first spirit.” In the end, the ultimate victims from this scheme are taxpayers—who saw their painstaking work and effort maliciously absorbed into the pockets of interest holders. In this way, the Olympics has turned into a lucrative money machine that preys on people’s blind enthusiasm to enrich exclusive individuals.

Power controls public opinion

Scandals and allegations are inherent in every major sports event, and the Tokyo Olympics was not an exception. Yet, especially in this case, corporate power has definitely helped minimize negative publicity toward issues that should otherwise be investigated and criticized publicly. Ryu Honma claims the Japanese media is “under Dentsu’s thumb in the advertising arena” and heavily relies on the company for its revenue stream. Because of this hierarchical relationship, Dentsu can easily suppress any unfavourable reports from its “clients” and host the Olympics under minimal public scrutiny. This may perhaps explain why some media outlets have been slow to pursue bribery allegations in bids for major sports events, including the Tokyo Olympics.

The Olympics have been increasingly commercialized over the past few decades, thanks to conglomerates like Dentsu, and it seems that their corporate powers only keep growing and invading every bit of our lives. Yet, these allegations of corruption behind the Tokyo Olympics are also crucial reminders of how public ignorance can exasperate the abuse of corporate and political powers. Even today, many Japanese still do not know the extent to which Dentsu has exploited public funding to amass its wealth under the shield of government protection. As the next Japanese general election is approaching, voters are encouraged to scrutinize who truly strives for the public benefit—and oust Suga’s Liberal Democratic Party to crack down on this failure of leadership.

Born in Japan and having studied in Canada, Sae Furukawa is always interested in exploring diplomatic relations and foreign policies that have shaped the way people view their culture and society. In today's globalized society, regional issues are often linked to and develop into global issues, affecting different stakeholders at various levels. As a student majoring in politics at Pomona College, Sae strives to share the youth's perspectives on socio-political affairs evolving worldwide and bring unheard voices into the public spotlight.