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View from Osaka: Kansai looks to lessons from Olympics for own international events

  • August 6, 2021
  • , The Japan Times
  • English Press



OSAKA – After the Tokyo Olympics conclude on Sunday, much political and media debate in the coming weeks and months will no doubt be about the legacy of the Games for Tokyo, Japan and the world.


But in the Kansai region, discussions about the Tokyo Olympics are unlikely to dwell on the grand meaning of the Games, and certainly there is little local interest in long-winded commentary about their impact on Tokyo’s political and economic future.


Rather, Kansai’s political and business leaders are more likely to focus on the logistics of holding the Olympics during a pandemic and what lessons — good and bad — might be drawn from Tokyo’s experience for two upcoming events of their own: the World Masters Games Kansai (WMG) and the 2025 World Expo.


The WMG, open to anyone over the age of 30, are dubbed the “Olympics for older people” and feature competitions in 35 sports. Held every four years, the sporting event is slated to take place from May 13 to 29, 2022, with the most recent edition having taken place in New Zealand in 2017.


The WMG were supposed to take place this year but were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers predicted in March that 50,000 people would attend, including 20,000 overseas participants.


Kansai organizing officials announced that they are making special efforts to get participants from neighboring Taiwan, which will host the 2025 WMG, and from South Korea, which will host the Asia-Pacific Masters Games in 2023, as well as from Australia, New Zealand and North America.


That, at any rate, was the plan in March.


But Osaka has been posting daily coronavirus cases of over 1,000 this week, and some prefectures in the Kansai region were put under either a central government-declared state of emergency or quasi-state of emergency that came into effect Monday.


WMG organizers now find themselves unable to carry out the type of direct promotion and invitations they had planned, and it is unclear what the pandemic will look like when the opening ceremony takes place at Takebishi Stadium Kyoto on May 13, 2022.


At present, many events in sports such as archery, basketball, karate and tennis have enough people signed up. Others are still open for registration for both domestic and international participants. Certain track and field events have already reached their quota of Japanese participants but continue to look for foreign athletes.


WMG officials aren’t rewriting their playbook to accommodate the COVID-19 pandemic just yet. But some restrictions put in place for Tokyo Olympics’ officials and participants might be adopted for the event, depending on the domestic and international situation with the virus. The figure of 20,000 projected overseas visitors is now something they merely hope for.


The other Kansai event looking at lessons from the Tokyo Olympics is the 2025 World Expo. In the coming months, Osaka Prefecture plans to review safety measures taken in Tokyo for the Games and whether they might be incorporated into expo plans. Unlike the 17-day Tokyo Olympics, the expo takes place over six months from April to October and is still expected to draw 28 million visitors.


In addition, Kansai’s business community, already worried about the impact of the pandemic on corporate support for the expo in the future, is wary of getting stuck with a bill that could significantly balloon in the coming years, as was the case with the Tokyo Games.


The Kansai Economic Federation says it will keep a critical eye on how the central and Kansai region governments make expo-related spending decisions. In that sense, one hopes, the Tokyo Olympics have provided the Kansai region with a lesson on what to avoid.


View from Osaka is a monthly column that examines the latest news from a Kansai perspective.

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