The Japanese government won the first round: although the polls indicate that a majority rejects the organization of the Olympics, the television broadcast of the opening ceremony recorded a record audience. A small victory celebrated as a triumph by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, whose main mission is to refute the idea that the Olympics are organized against the will of the Japanese.
An unexpected situation. The Olympic Games were brought to Japan by the hand of the dominant figure in national politics of this century: Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister from 2006 to 2007 then from 2012 to 2020. His objective was clear: to revive the memory of the 1964 Olympic Games, when Japan, in the midst of an economic miracle, celebrated its resurrection after World War II.
Triumphantly re-elected in 2012, the new prime minister promised revisionist modernization: bold economic policy, later called Abenomics, would help Japan revive its industry. In the background, Abe, heir to an ultra-nationalist political dynasty, would come to terms with the past. Under his command, the country would abandon the pacifist pact built after the war by the United States. In Abe’s words, staging the 2020 Olympics would serve to “change the declining mindset.”
The plan did not go as planned. In a scenario similar to that of Brazil in 2016, the 2021 Olympics arrived too late, when the feeling of a return to the doldrums had already replaced the euphoria of the golden years. The pandemic, and its chaotic management by a government that has never managed to find the right tone, has reversed all the economic gains achieved since 2012.
During this period, Japan has also not evolved in the great challenges of our time. The pro-charcoal energy policy went against the world, and the gender labor market agenda, particularly strategic in a society with historically low birth rates and opposed to migration incentives, has had discouraging results. The many golf matches he played with Donald Trump did little to help Abe stop China from moving forward. The greatest symbol of his failure, his idea of an autonomous and militarist Japan has never won popular support.
Abe’s body seems not to have resisted the exhaustion of his political project. At the height of the pandemic, in August 2020, when it was already clear his government had lost its aura, Abe withdrew for health reasons. He left in his place his right-hand man Suga, a shadow politician inexperienced in diplomacy, to command a Japan with closed borders and empty stadiums.
The abrupt end of the Abe era left the country disoriented. On the eve of the opening ceremony, the Japanese feared both the virus and the embarrassment of not living up to the megalomaniacal expectations created by the former prime minister. But this unease has everything to dissipate during the competition. The Olympic spirit goes beyond all the narratives fabricated by politicians, who will never resist the temptation to link sport to national destiny.
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