Long before Tokyo 2020 grappled with cost overruns, sexism scandals and fears it could turn into a COVID-19 super-spread event, anti-Olympic activists were already calling it a disaster. .
This is why a year before the initially planned opening of the Games affected by the pandemic at the end of July 2020, anti-Olympic activists gathered in Japan for the very first world summit of “Olympians”, as those who are called. oppose the Games.
The Olympians powwow reported that once ad hoc localized opposition to Olympic events had gone global.
“We shouldn’t see the anti-[Olympics] movements [as] being isolated and divided according to nations and cities, “said Hiroki Ogasawara, professor of sociology and cultural studies at the Japanese University of Kobe,” because the protest is already global and the Olympics inevitably involve acts reprehensible on a global scale as well ”.
Dozens of activists from past host cities (London, Rio de Janeiro and Pyeongchang, South Korea) and future (Paris and Los Angeles) were joined in the Japanese capital by those preparing for a candidacy from their cities, including Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.
“It was a pivotal moment,” Jules Boykoff, participant and professor of politics and government at the University of the Pacific in Oregon, United States, told Al Jazeera. What Boykoff previously called “a moment of movement” had evolved into a transnational coalition with lingering strength.
Boykoff, an Olympian turned critic, says that because the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is “a multibillion dollar giant” those who oppose it have understood, “the only way to fight is to become more mobile with their dissent ”.
Founded in 1894, the IOC is a non-profit organization that serves as the governing body of the Olympic committees in each of its member countries with the mission of distributing the billions of revenues from broadcasting and marketing to the development of sport. Its board of directors is made up of members from the world’s business elite.
In Asia, Japan has hosted the most Olympic events – the Games which kicked off on July 23 were the fourth in 50 years.
While the 1964 Games have generally been described positively – a showcase of the technological prowess and design brilliance of postwar Japan and its debut on the world stage – not everyone has a also rosy vision of the subsequent Olympics.
Of the two main anti-Games groups spawned by Tokyo 2020, one is called Okotowa Link, which means “Olympic disasters”.
Japanese activists had a litany of concerns about the event, from the demolition of affordable housing to the kidnapping of street sleepers and the transformation of the famous Tsukiji fish market into a parking lot for the national stadium.
In a time when activism is increasingly global and gaining momentum online – from the #MeToo movement to Fridays for Future and Black Lives Matter – it’s hard to remember the days when the grassroots organization released a leaflet. at a time.
This is how Helen Jefferson Lenskyj and her fellow activists at Bread Not Circuses got their start in the late 1980s, when Toronto competed first for the 1996 Games and then for the 2008 event. As his city’s repeated offers called for a sustained campaign, Lenskyj notes how the anti-Olympic movement has since developed.
“He’s definitely gotten stronger,” said Lenskyj, now professor emeritus of social justice education at the University of Toronto. “With social media and more efficient use of the Internet, the growing problem of huge debts and expensive places, the legacy that never materialized, disillusionment grows. “
Anti-Canada Games activists were the first to launch the Olympic Poverty Torch Relay, in which the torch is made from a toilet plunger. And an annual Olympic Day was celebrated every late June to galvanize opposition around the world.
The human costs of the Games, including the massive disruption of residents’ lives and increased police surveillance, contrast starkly with the business interests of the Olympic Games boosters. Typically, business and political elites stand to gain the most from brand sponsorships, white elephant construction projects, and lucrative service contracts.
“It’s what I call the trickle-down economy,” Boykoff said. “It’s a huge economic juggernaut; sports are incidental.
In recent years, citizens have become increasingly reluctant to welcome sporting extravagance, with some Western countries submitting the decision to voters in a referendum.
One by one, the potential candidate cities were eliminated by “no” votes from Boston in the United States to Krakow in Poland.
In 2015, with the prospect of the IOC being awarded the 2022 Winter Games, only two candidate cities remained in the running: Almaty and Beijing.
Authoritarian countries have long viewed the Games as a form of “soft power”, while the IOC has sought to present the event as a force for good that transcends politics.
In 2001, when Beijing won the 2008 Summer Olympics despite concerns over China’s human rights record, the IOC claimed the hosting would help usher in an era of greater freedom.
Seven years later, artist Ai Weiwei, the man who helped design the centerpiece of the Bird’s Nest Stadium, was persecuted by authorities for his political activism, and Beijing won its bid for the Olympic Games. winter of 2022 three weeks after a national human rights survey. lawyers and their staff.
In less than seven months, Beijing’s massive imprisonment of Uyghur Muslims and its crackdown in Hong Kong are fueling calls from Europe and North America for a boycott.
Meanwhile, the decreasing number of cities ready to bid for the event has prompted the IOC to act. Its Agenda 2020 called for transparency, sustainability and flexibility. Critics, however, say the organization is incapable of real reform.
“The IOC has a democratic deficit,” Boykoff said, adding that he was ruled “with an iron fist”.
In response to the growing backlash from the NOlympics, the IOC has accelerated the process of nominating host cities.
In an unprecedented move in 2017, he awarded a double prize to the remaining candidates: giving the 2024 Summer Games in Paris and 2028 in Los Angeles.
And just before the start of the Tokyo Olympics, the IOC announced the host of 2032 – Brisbane, Australia, the only candidate. Previously, the host city was chosen only seven years before the start of the Games.
For now, the rallying cry of “N’Olympiques anywhere” activists may seem distant, but as the memory of two weeks of sporting spectacle begins to fade and Tokyo assesses the long-term effect of the Games, it seems likely that the growls of discontent following the IOC will only grow – as will the movement.
“The anti-Olympic campaign has a significant impact on raising awareness among local residents about the human rights that will be violated and what they will have to suffer to have the Olympics,” Lenskyj said.