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2020 Games to have legacy of sustainability

By Toshiro Muto / Special to The Yomiuri ShimbunThe 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games are just one year away. A variety of “one-year-to-go ceremonies” are scheduled on July 24 for the Olympics and on Aug. 25 for the Paralympics.

As the chief executive officer of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, I am proud to say that International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has commended the progress we are making in our preparations for the Games. Nevertheless, we still have a mountain of challenges to address prior to the opening of the Olympiad.

In May, the Tokyo organizing committee launched a lottery for the initial offering of Olympic tickets for residents of Japan, selling 3.22 million of them. A far-greater-than-expected total of 7.5 million people registered online for the lottery. The committee now plans to hold an additional online ticket lottery in August for those who were unsuccessful in the first one and a new round of lottery ticket sales in the autumn. In August, Paralympic ticket sales will also commence.

Moreover, the organizing committee teamed up with school authorities to make more than 1 million Olympic and Paralympic tickets available to primary and middle school students at affordable prices. I am sure that seeing the Tokyo 2020 events in person will become a lifelong memory for them.

Meanwhile, preparations are underway for the Tokyo 2020 Games Volunteer Program. By the close of the application period in December, more than 200,000 people — tens of thousands of them from abroad — had offered to participate in the 80,000-strong program. The fact that there was such a large number of applications from overseas proves how strongly the rest of the world, too, is interested in the Games. For candidates residing in Japan, interviews are currently underway and orientation sessions are set to start this autumn. I hope all of them will enjoy a once-in-lifetime experience as Olympic volunteers.

Work on all 2020 Games venues is progressing on schedule. The New National Stadium in Tokyo, which will host the Games’ opening and closing ceremonies as well as athletic and soccer competitions, is scheduled to be completed in November. The construction of nine new venues for the Games is planned to be complete by February 2020.

The Athletes’ Village will be completed in the Harumi waterfront district of Tokyo by the end of 2019. The Aomi, Ariake and Odaiba districts on Tokyo Bay will be equipped with urban sports facilities to attract young sports enthusiasts in particular. These areas are going to be transformed into “festive spaces” throughout the Games.

For the organizing committee, it is equally important to ensure flawless preparations for accommodation, meals and transportation for athletes and officials, as well as security and medical services. Likewise, it is necessary to take care of media crews gathering from all over the world, and antidoping procedures will have to be in place to protect the integrity of sport.

At the same time, it is essential to come up with measures to deal with heat-related issues and prepare for extraordinary weather conditions, such as typhoons. On other issues not entirely within the organizing committee’s control, such as transportation, security and cybersecurity, we are strengthening coordination and cooperation with all stakeholders, including the central government, the Tokyo metropolitan government and the relevant prefectural and municipal governments.

The organizing committee, together with the relevant international and national sports federations, has already embarked on a series of Tokyo 2020 test events that will last until next spring, covering about 60 events. The test events are a warm-up not only for athletes but also for support staff and officials to ensure the venues are ready for use. For its part, the organizing committee is acquiring and enhancing Games operation capabilities.

Significance of Games

Let’s think anew about the significance of staging the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Japan. In Tokyo, various aspects of social infrastructure have been, and are being, improved. Projects are underway to ensure barrier-free access to urban facilities for those with physical impairments, the elderly and children. The 1964 edition of the Games hosted by Tokyo left such legacies as the Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train and the Shuto Expressway toll-road network in the greater Tokyo area. However, given that Japan is already equipped with modern infrastructure, further infrastructure development is not high on the Olympic agenda this time around.

During the Olympic Games, running from July 24 to Aug. 9, 2020, and the Paralympic Games, from Aug. 25 to Sept. 6 of the same year, a huge number of people of all ethnicities, races, cultures, religions and other backgrounds will converge on Tokyo and other parts of Japan. One of the Tokyo Games’ key concepts is “unity in diversity” among citizens of the world, meaning that we accept and coexist with people of diverse backgrounds.

Of course, the Olympics and Paralympics are sports festivals in which each athlete takes part to realize his or her best performance and achieve his or her personal best. There may be scenes in which athletes may not be able to perform at their best or may lose despite doing so. However, those athletes who compete by doing their best are expected to respect one another — spectators are also likely to share such emotions. The vision of the Tokyo Games is: “Sport has the power to change the world and our future.” The reason for this is that sport is seen as creating value that extends into other areas of society.

Another concept of the Tokyo 2020 Games is “sustainability.” To that end, the organizing committee concluded a letter of intent with the United Nations in November 2018 to promote the contribution of sport to sustainable development and help achieve the world body’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We have undertaken several projects in line with these concepts.

One of them was the utilization of an “urban mine,” an enormous yet hidden pool of electronic waste from mobile phones and small home electric appliances, to extract resources for the gold, silver and bronze medals to be awarded at the Tokyo 2020 Games. It is the first time in the history of the Olympics and Paralympics that precious metals fully recycled from electronic waste contributed mostly by people of the host country have been used to manufacture the highly coveted Games medals. Both the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee have greatly applauded this achievement by the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee.

The committee has also decided to help tackle the issue of ocean plastic pollution. It has called on Japanese society to contribute household plastic waste for recycling to produce the podiums to be used for Games award ceremonies. This is an unprecedented Olympic initiative, which has been supported by a large number of people.

The Tokyo Games also rely on the backing of local governments across Japan. For example, a communal facility for international exchanges at the Athletes’ Village will be built with lumber contributed by local governments. So far, 63 municipalities have decided to participate in this project. After the facility is dismantled following the end of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the wood will be returned to each locality for reuse for their public buildings. As for the crafting of the Tokyo Games torch, a project is underway to use aluminum recycled from temporary housing used by survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011.

Role model for future Games

Furthermore, the uniforms that will be worn by about 10,000 volunteer runners participating in the Olympic Games torch relay throughout the country will be partially made from recycled plastic bottles.

The projects cited above are aimed at helping to realize a sustainable society by raising people’s awareness of the importance of sustainability and strengthening social systems to effectively recycle, reuse and reduce waste. Many businesses that collaborate with the organizing committee for the successful hosting of the Tokyo Games have already launched various projects designed to promote sustainability. If such projects take root in Japanese society, this campaign will become a legacy of the Tokyo 2020 Games.

Since its inauguration, it has been a basic policy of the organizing committee to get as many people as possible involved in preparations for the Games. For instance, the committee publicly solicited designs for the Games emblem and the Games mascots. It received about 15,000 entries in the emblem design contest and subsequently had the selection process broadcast live on the web. The Emblem Selection Committee finally chose a pair of emblems — one for the Olympic Games and the other for the Paralympic Games — both featuring checkered patterns, known as “ichimatsu moyo” in Japanese. They are quite popular now.

The committee received more than 2,000 entries in the Tokyo 2020 Games mascot contest. Students at about 80 percent of the country’s primary schools cast ballots and selected two characters, later named Miraitowa for the Olympics and Someity for the Paralympics. When the results of the ballot were announced at simultaneous events in Tokyo, Hokkaido and Kumamoto Prefecture, a loud cheer went up from the primary school students present.

Professional designers and design students were invited to submit design ideas for Games medals and professional designers’ ideas were solicited for the Games torch.

The 2020 Games will be supported by a large number of volunteers divided into two groups — Games or on-site volunteers called the “Field Cast” and off-site volunteers who will be known as the “City Cast.” The names were decided by a ballot of volunteers — another example of the uniqueness of the Tokyo 2020 Games in emphasizing the transparent democratic processes. I believe those who are involved in the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games are likely to become a role model for future Games operations.

I strongly believe that the organizing committee’s commitment to promoting the pursuit of sustainability and its deployment of democratic processes with greater transparency will serve as an action agenda not only for the Olympic and Paralympic Games but also for society in the future.

(Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun)

Muto is the chief executive officer of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, a post he has held since January 2014. He concurrently serves as the honorary chairman of Daiwa Institute of Research Ltd., where he was the chairman for 10 years until July 2018. Previously, he served as administrative vice minister of finance and as deputy governor at the Bank of Japan.Speech

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