Research Update: The Road to Tokyo 2020

Project update: Tokyo 2020 has been moved to 2021

The world is struggling to deal with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, and in most countries major events have been cancelled or postponed in order to ‘flatten the curve’ of the spread of the virus. Japan is no exception. The first few months the country seemed to be dealing well with containing the spread as the government relied on a cluster-based tracking mechanism. Now that community-spreading has taken root in Japan, however, there is no denying that the virus will continue to wreak havoc in the coming months.

Photo by Anoma van der Veere

In the first few months of the pandemic, the Japanese government refused to back down from holding the Games. Domestic interests and key stakeholders remained hesitant to discuss the possible cancellation or postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Games out of fear that the virus might already have been dealt with before the opening ceremony. An extension or cancellation would have been disastrous for the image the government tried to foster through the Games.

As the pandemic progressed and both domestic and international pressure started building, the incumbent administration headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe became more pragmatic in how it faced the likelihood of the Games not taking place this summer. The administration chose to hedge its bets by relying on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to make a final decision. The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) gave the right to cancel or postpone the Paralympic Games to the IOC. This created clarity over the fate the Paralympic Games were to face, it would be the same fate as the Olympic Games.

Pressure continued to mount as the IOC was plagued by officials leaking speculations to the media. The final straw was the withdrawal of the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Team from the Tokyo 2020 Games. Following suit, the IOC and the Japanese government decided to postpone the Games to the summer of 2021. For the Japanese government hedging seemed to have worked in their favor, as cancellation is off the table for now.

Photo by Anoma van der Veere

Accordingly, the ‘Road to Tokyo 2020’ project has been postponed. Travel bans have taken root in both the Netherlands and Japan, making the back and forth visitations of delegations impossible. Moreover, major sports facilities in both countries have seen a decline in accessibility as a result of Covid-19 countermeasures.

The goals of the Game Changer-project, the main target of analysis for our research project, were to improve opportunities for disability sports in Tokyo and to ‘inspire’ more people to take up sports. This project is run by the NOC*NSF, Japan Sport Council, and the Edogawa-ku, Adachi-ku, and Nishitokyo-shi municipalities. The Game Changer-project focuses on achieving the aforementioned goals locally through activities in these three municipalities. Naturally, in the current state of affairs, these goals will be hard to achieve. However, once the pandemic has calmed down and we head for a new year, the project will again be taken up and hopefully run its course.

In short, both the Paralympic Games and the research project have been postponed to 2021. However, two years of fieldwork and progress through the Game Changer-project have already had results. The Game Changer-project offers a glimpse into a new future of how to configure a positive legacy through sports mega-events. Through community activities, the project partners have managed to integrate stakeholders and completely change direction in terms of policy making in the field of disability sports. Local initiatives have seen spin offs into multiple directions, with changes towards sports accessibility taking place on the national, city-wide, and local levels.

In order to provide a current overview of the direction of the project and the tentative research results, the LeidenAsiaCentre will publish a preliminary report that will be open access. This report will be published in the first weeks of May. Stay updated by subscribing to the LeidenAsiaCentre newsletter or visit the project page here: https://leidenasiacentre.nl/en/the-road-to-tokyo-2020-access-to-sports-for-the-disabled-japan-and-the-netherlands/.

 

Anoma van der Veere