BUENOS AIRES, Brazil — Money, technical capacity, infrastructure and a sprinkling of striking signature developments, such as the $1.5 billion Zaha Hadid-designed Kasumigaoka Stadium and Tokyo Bay’s transformation — it has always been clear where the main enduring strengths of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics bid lay.
Even when the mood in the sporting world, in the countdown to today’s big vote, lurched dramatically away from extravagant mega-projects in favor of an austerity more in keeping with the world’s economic problems, Japanese bid leaders were shielded by the presence in the race of a still more ambitious project — the one advocated with such passion by Tokyo’s rival Istanbul.
For a long time, indeed, the Asian bid’s biggest problem appeared to be the lack of any real sense of excitement inside the Movement about the prospect of the Games returning to the Japanese capital after 56 years — a sort of “X factor” akin to the “city that bridges continents” ticket that Istanbul looked to make so much of.
And then Fukushima hit.
Having lain in the background for two years since the devastating 2011 tsunami/earthquake struck, at least insofar as the narrow confines of this particular bid battle was concerned, Tokyo 2020 suddenly looked set to be submerged under a torrent of adverse media commentary stemming from concerns that the impact of the nuclear accident might be much more far-reaching than initially thought.
It was the sort of out-of-left-field development which has characterized this strange race and which requires impeccable judgement – and flexibility – from bid leaders tasked with responding to it.
For weeks, with the Tokyo team seemingly in denial, such flexibility looked to be beyond them and their chances of victory were perceived to have shrunk accordingly.
But, with time running out, it became apparent that Tokyo’s strategists had fashioned an answer; this combined the formulation of markedly more direct responses to the endless questions with the delivery of a diversion of unanswerable effectiveness.
Her very arrival was a sensation, given the extraordinary protocol hoops bid leaders had to jump through.
That it was immediately clear she was already well-known, and liked, by a few of those gathered in Buenos Aires, through her presidency of no fewer than nine sports bodies, was a further bonus.
But it was the way she plunged with relish into the lobbying hothouse that is the Olympic hotel 48 hours before a big vote that was the clincher.
At a stroke, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) members comprising the electorate in this contest had something more immediate and alluring to preoccupy them than a nuclear accident.
Once the Princess had completed her bravura contribution to her country’s future by opening the Tokyo 2020 presentation in a combination of flawless English and perfectly-accented French, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe nailed what remained of the Fukushima issue to IOC members’ evident satisfaction by asserting that it “has never done, and will never do, any damage in Tokyo.”
As she prepares to return to the bosom of her imperial family, Princess Hisako can reflect that her impact on the decisive closing stages of this peculiar race was comparable to that of Sebastian Coe, on behalf of London 2012, in 2005, or the governor of the Brazilian Central Bank, on behalf of Rio 2016, in 2013.
Contact the writer of this story David Owen through his Twitter feed that can be accessed here. Inside the Games is an online blog of the London Organizing Committee that staged the 2012 London Games. The blog continues to cover issues that are important to the Olympic Movement. This article and its photos are reprinted here with permission of the blog editors.