Japan celebrates 2020 Olympics bid win – but is it safe and ready?

Tokyo celebrates victory after PM reassures IOC that radiation from nuclear plants is no longer a threat

Tokyo

Thousands of Tokyo residents face a bleary-eyed start to the week after weekend parties to celebrate the news that the city will host the 2020 Summer Olympics for the second time.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) unanimously picked Tokyo over rivals Madrid and Istanbul on Saturday, after a late assurance by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the capital is safe from radiation. 

A string of problems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, 230km north-east of the city, put Tokyo’s Olympic organisers on the defensive, and forced Mr Abe last week to find $470m (£300m) to plug the plant’s radioactive leaks. 

The world’s top athletes will be safe, he pledged before the IOC’s final vote on Saturday in Buenos Aires. 

But many have expressed concerns that a litany of crises faced by the Japanese government makes it entirely unsuitable to host such a global event. Experts have blamed Japan’s government and nuclear regulators for taking their eye off the Fukushima clean-up since Mr Abe returned to power late last year. The government wants to restart Japan’s 50 idling commercial nuclear reactors, despite criticism that the crisis at the Daiichi plant is far from over.

“It is immoral to invite the Olympic Games to Japan where the health environment cannot be secured,” said Mitsuhei Murata, a former Japanese ambassador to Switzerland. He called for Tokyo’s bid to be withdrawn until what he called Japan’s “lack of crisis” is remedied.

Tokyo won the bid with a presentation that focused on its deep pockets, state-of-the-art sports facilities and sleek public transport system. But the IOC decision was also clearly a vote for stability in uncertain times, amid the deep political divisions in Turkey and runaway unemployment in Spain.

The decision was greeted ecstatically in Tokyo, where thousands of people stayed up on Saturday night watching live relays from Buenos Aires. At Komazawa Olympic Park, which hosted the 1964 Games, many wept and hugged friends as the news was announced.

Hundreds of people gathered outside Tokyo’s government buildings today to spell out the words “arigato” – “thank you” in Japanese. “It’s an amazing feeling,” said Emi Ishii, an office worker in central Tokyo. “We’ve been waiting for such a long time for some good news.”

Tokyo’s government says the event will help Japan recover from the 2011 tsunami/earthquake disaster, which left much of the country’s north-east coast in ruins and triggered the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. “Japan needs hope and dreams,” Mr Abe said after the IOC announcement.

Achieving those dreams, however, will not come cheap. Tokyo has promised to build 22 of the 37 Olympic venues from scratch, and spend $1bn refurbishing its 1964 Olympic stadium. The total estimated price tag Y409 bn (£2.6bn), which the government hopes to offset with a Y3trn Olympic windfall. That assessment is almost certainly optimistic. Every Games since 1960 has overrun its budget. The budget issue is likely to loom large: Japan’s public debt surpassed Y1 quadrillion last month, equal to the economies of Great Britain, Germany and France combined.

Public indifference and fear of incurring more debt helped sink Tokyo’s bid for the 2016 Olympics four years ago. It took the 11 March triple disaster to rekindle Tokyo’s passion for the Olympics. The government will be hoping that passion does not fade before 2020.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)