Tokyo 2020 Needs to Go Green, Say Olympics Observers

Environment News & Views Sports - April 10th, 2015
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Organizers are touting the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as the greenest games yet, but a growing number of detractors are voicing their doubts.


By Kyle Mullin


The Associated Press recently reported that the World Wide Fund for Nature and other, less overtly ecological organizations like Mizuno, the sports-goods company that led Tokyo’s bid for the games, have formally complained about the lack of a concrete, specified timeline for the event’s environmental initiatives.

The article quoted Taruyuki Ohno, a former Tokyo government official who worked on Tokyo’s Olympic bid as saying, “At this point, a sustainability plan has not been made, so that is cause for concern.”

Shaun McCarthy, the head of the 2012 London Olympics’ sustainability efforts, concurred with Ohno, adding, “What gets measured gets done … You need specific standards and you can translate them into contractual requirements for your supply chain.”

He was also quoted as saying, “What I’ve seen so far are some very general statements. That doesn’t make it happen. There needs to be the next stage of being very explicit as to what Tokyo will deliver. That’s something that needs to be done quite urgently.”

Experts note that London had readied its energy conservation and environmental standards within a year of being granted its bid. Tokyo, which got the Games in 2013, has yet to keep pace with the precedent set by its British counterparts.

These are only the latest complaints in a long litany of grievances against the upcoming Tokyo games. Recently, LGBT activist Akiko Shimizu publicly questioned whether the capital was attempting to superficially scrub its image ahead of the games by passing an underpaid gay marriage bill. Meanwhile, vendors and customers at the city’s renowned Tsukiji fish market have protested the gentrification that will lead to the relocation of the market as constitution for the Olympics ramps up.

But Tokyo is far from the only locale to court controversy in lieu of hosting the games. Longtime rival China was lambasted for its human rights record before and during Beijing’s 2008 Olympic hosting. Vancouver had its share of PR debacles and tragedies during the 2010 Winter Olympics. And last year, activists and statesmen criticized Russia’s anti-gay legislation as the former Soviet state held the Winter games in Sochi. Of course, such protests frequently draw public attention until the Games actually begin, and many of those onlookers get caught up in the spectacle of the sports. Despite all the complaints lobbed again China ahead of the ‘08 Summer Games, the PRC seems to have very much fared for the better after the event (see here and here). The same was said of Vancouver and Sochi, although the consensus was smaller after that latter event. Time will only tell if Tokyo can bask in similar Olympic glory, even if advance protests are legitimate. Those activists may be starting to squirm, because the precedence doesn’t exactly fall in their favor.

Main Image: “SAYONARA National Olympic Stadium” by Flickr user Shinichi Higashi, used under CC