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August 24, 2021 Tuesday 09:58:55 AM IST

United By Emotion: Why The Protests Against Tokyo Olympics

Sports & Games

Even as Tokyo Olympics got off to an explosive start on 23rd July, 2021, why were some Japanese citizens gathering in the streets of the city to vocally protest the event? The Games' motto of "United by Emotion" was transformed for many into a rallying call for those exhausted by the seemingly never-ending nightmare that is Covid-19.  However, Dr Thomas Baudinette, Lecturer in Japanese studies at Macquarie University feels that anti-Olympics protests are not just about holding an event in the pandemic. 

Ever since the awarding of the hosting rights back in 2012, there has been a vocal opposition to the Games in Japan. Over the past nine years, activists, public intellectuals and citizens alike have criticised the massive spending directed to the games. Importantly, a strong perception emerged that the Japanese government was investing money into the Olympics that would be better spent on recovery from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. 

Just as the postwar Japanese government utilised the 1964 Tokyo Olympics to showcase Japan’s recovery from the devastation wrought by World War 2, it appeared that the current government was likewise hoping to use the Games as a symbol of Japanese cultural strength in the aftermath of natural and nuclear disaster.

That is, the Olympics were propaganda for foreign audiences and the government was not doing enough to support citizens on the ground. A belief emerged among many citizens that the Olympics represented a smokescreen designed to hide Japan’s social and economic woes from the rest of the world.

Other concerns related to perceptions of corruption within the Olympics movement itself, with the International Olympics Committee emerging as a particular target of Japanese ire. As the Covid-19 crisis intensified, a strong perception developed among Japanese people that their government was beholden to an unelected international sporting body who did not have their best interests at heart. 

Blending Sports and Culture

Tokyo Olympics became the venue for the inaugural Olympic Agora that blends sport and culture through art installations and events. It evolved out of a set of detailed recommendations by the International Olympic Committee to safeguard Olympic values and strengthen the role of sport in society. It was inspired by the public assembly spaces, or agoras of ancient Greece. Among the six Olympians and Paralympians participating in the event was Salchow MacArthur, Professor of Graphic Desgin in the Department of Art, Art History, and Design. She was a member of the United States National Rowing Team having participated in 2000 and 2004 Olympics.  For the Olympic Agora, each artist-in-residence created a series of 10-foot by 4-foot panel curtains displaying the Olympic spirit and values. Artists worked in their preferred medium — be it photography, painting, graffiti, and in Salchow MacArthur’s case, graphic design.

"We were asked to envision global harmony, determination, and resilience — all in context of the Olympics and COVID,” Salchow MacArthur said. “Our goal was to think of how sport ties us all together as a global community. I worked metaphorically with elements of abstraction, colour, and typography, overlaid on images of the natural world,” according to Salchow MacArthur.