The difficulties of organizing and hosting the Olympic Games in the middle of a pandemic and the message it sends despite the challenges is one of the many topics discussed by Japanese Ambassador to Greece Νakayama Yasunori in an interview with Kathimerini, in which he also says that he is particularly pleased at representing his country at the birthplace of the Games at this particular time.
Just a few days before the opening ceremony of the 2021 Games in Tokyo, Yasunori notes that the top priority for the Japanese government is to host a safe Games, with all the health measures that have been adopted and the restrictions that are in place.
He also talks about the many areas of potential cooperation between Japan and Greece, including in renewable energy sources, information and communication technology, climate change and disaster prevention, while pointing out that he is active in facilitating mutually beneficial investments.
Lastly, Yasunori stresses the fact that Greece and Japan are the countries with the first and second biggest shipping fleets in the world, respectively, and as such should both attach equal importance to maintaining international maritime order.
What does it mean for the city of Tokyo, and Japan more broadly, to host the Olympics?
Firstly, we would like to demonstrate that the unity of the world and efforts and wisdom of mankind can overcome this difficult situation caused by the unprecedented pandemic. We also like to provide our children and younger generations with the opportunity to witness and experience the greatest sports event that can give them strong inspiration well into future. The name “Paralympic Games” was first used in the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. By hosting the second Paralympic Games in Tokyo, we would like to emphasize to the world the importance of building a society where people with disabilities are actively engaged. Finally, from the Japanese perspective, by successfully hosting the Games, we hope we are able to show Japan’s reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, after which we received so much support from all over the world.
How difficult has it been to organize the greatest sports event in the world under these extraordinary circumstances?
The Covid-19 pandemic is the biggest challenge we face in hosting the Games. It is important to take all the necessary measures to make the Games safe and secure as much as possible for both participating athletes and the Japanese citizens. For this purpose, the government of Japan (GoJ), the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) and the Organizing Committee have been making strenuous efforts in close coordination with the International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee. The Playbooks that enlist concrete Covid countermeasures at the Games have been worked out and the third and latest version was made public on June 15.
– Some people, including health experts, have expressed the opinion that it might have been better to postpone the Games again. How do you respond to them?
The International Olympic Committee general assembly of July 2020 made a decision on the detailed schedule and venues of every competition of the Games in Tokyo, starting with the opening ceremony on July 23, 2021. Since then, all the parties concerned have been making preparations, taking into consideration advice from the World Health Organization and health experts. More specifically, at an expert group called the All Partners Task Force that includes the Five Bodies (IOC, IPC, Organizing Committee, GOJ and TMG) and WHO, technical and scientific issues have been discussed and they have been reflected in the Playbook.
– An Olympics without spectators sounds like an oxymoron. How is Japan dealing with this unfortunate development and the financial cost associated with it?
Safe and secure Games are our top priority and the Five Bodies have been painstakingly discussing the matter. In March, they decided not to accept spectators from abroad, and on July 8, they made the decision that the competitions that will take place in the Tokyo metropolitan area (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama) will have no spectators. Needless to say, it was unfortunate that these decisions had to be made. However, as the Olympic and Paralympic Games are said to be viewed by more than 4 billion people worldwide through television and other media, we believe it is worthwhile going ahead, in order to demonstrate that the Games have the power to unite the minds of all the people in the world and that the efforts and wisdom of mankind can overcome this unprecedented situation. As for the cost issue, efforts have been made to minimize it by simplifying the organization of the Games.
Can you describe the health measures that have and will be taken during the Games?
Athletes and officials from abroad are required to undergo health monitoring for 14 days and two tests within 96 hours respectively prior to their departure, and another test upon entry in Japan. After entering Japan, a daily test is mandatory for the athletes and officials and they are required not to go out of permitted area, which is, in principle, limited to their accommodation and competition venues. These measure may appear stringent, but this is deemed necessary in order to protect both the athletes and Japanese citizens.
How do you feel being the ambassador to Greece, the birthplace of the Olympic Games, at a time when your country will be hosting them?
Of course, I feel very much honored to be in Athens as the representative of the host country of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The spirit of the Olympic Games, which originated in ancient Greece, to contribute to the realization of a peaceful and better world with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play, undoubtedly carries more weight under the current circumstances where a lot of people are suffering from the pandemic, natural disasters and various conflicts. I feel very proud that I was able to confer my commendations to the Greek people with outstanding contributions in preparation for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, including those from the Hellenic Olympic Committee, Hellenic Paralympic Committee, International Olympic Academy and a very generous private sponsor, as well as some individuals who contributed to the Olympic flame lighting ceremony. It was also very heartwarming to know two Syrian refugee athletes are participating in the Paralympic Games in Tokyo from Greece.
What is the present state of bilateral relations between Japan and Greece? What are the main sectors of cooperation? And what are the prospects for the future?
Japan and Greece have traditionally maintained close ties in political, economic and cultural fields. In 2019 we celebrated the 120-year anniversary of the conclusion of the Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation with a variety of cultural and economic events in Athens. Moreover, the two countries firmly share fundamental values including democracy, the rule of law, human rights and free trade. Also, Greece is the biggest maritime nation, possessing the world’s largest merchant fleet, while Japan is the second. Against this background, both Japan and Greece attach high importance to maintaining international maritime order, including freedom of navigation as well as a free and fair trade system. In this regard, I believe that there is more room for cooperation between Japan and Greece. On top of that, a wide range of new partnership possibilities seem to be emerging in fields such as renewable energy, ICT, climate change and disaster prevention. I understand that the Greek government has high expectations of further strengthening the economic relations with Japan, especially attracting more Japanese investments in Greece. I hope I can facilitate efforts by people on both sides to work out as many win-win projects as possible.