Sunday, August 30, 2015

Can Abe Save The Tokyo Olympics?

So the Yomiuri Shimbun is sycophantic. Tell me something I did not already know. (Link)

But beyond asking the reader to laugh at the Yomiuri articles's North Korea-like reverence for direct guidance from the Supreme Leader, some further, unbridled thoughts on the story of the search for a National Stadium:

1) These are the Abe Olympics

It is not clear from what springs Abe Shinzo's authority over matters as mundane (but crucial, given the current plan to hold the Olympics in August) as what kind of cooling system will be employed to keep spectators at the National Stadium feeling somewhat more comfortable. True Abe is the head of the government and the chairman of the government committee overseeing the Olympic effort.

However, a chairmanship is not an executive role. These are the decisions that need to be made by the director-general of a bureaucratic organization. The committee should be merely rubber stamping the decision of this as yet unnamed director-general.

So what is Abe doing here?

Guess: making sure that when he hands off the premiership in 2018 in a precedent-shattering transfer of power (to Inada Tomomi) parachuting in as the savior of the floundering Tokyo 2020 organization, that there still will be a Tokyo 2020 organization for him to save.

Abe decided to go all in in 2013, flying to Buenos Aires, delivering a speech in English in support of the Tokyo Olympic bid. At the time it seemed to many (including yours truly) that the Olympics were to be both an integral structural element and the capstone of the Abenomics economic revitalization program.

Hence the befuddlement of many (including yours truly) at Abe's inexplicable appointment of a leadership team of superannuated, serial losers and misfits to guide the Olympics effort.

What seems more likely now is that inevitable failure of the committee to guide the Olympics effort was not a bug but a feature, with the ages of the principals giving away the plot from the outset.

Under a not-at-all implausible scenario it was Abe's intention to descend from the Olympian heights of the PM's office; supplant an ineffective and insipid Mori Yoshiro-led program; electrify the staff, volunteers and partners with his new, dynamic, experienced leadership (all brimming vim and vigor); and with only seconds to spare, lead Tokyo to host an Olympics putting all previous and future Olympics to shame.

Only, of course, having put a band of self-important stuffed shirts whose only real daytime activity should be a round of golf in charge of a modern Olympics imploded far sooner than Abe could have dreamed. Perhaps he thought that his back would be covered by charter member of the Friends of Abe: Minister of Education, Culure, Sports, Science and Technology Shimomura Hakubun (seen musing above at the meeting of the steering committee for the new National Stadium). If so, Abe seriously misread his revisionist co-conspirator: Shimomura, who lifted himself out of dire poverty through academic scholarships, actually cares about education – and nothing else.

So bereft of direction was the structure Abe put into place that it had to be Abe, not the committee or Minister Shimomura, who had to pull the plug on the gargantuan Zara Hadid-designed Bicycle Helmet. It is Abe who is making changes to the design specifications for the next attempt.

2) They still do not know what the heck they are doing

One does not have to read the analysis of the new stadium plan, though there is a lot of juicy stuff coming out, to know that even with Abe's direct intervention, the Olympics effort is ensnared in a web of cross-purposes.

One only has to read the official government description of Friday's meeting of the National Stadium committee.

According to the Prime Minister's Residence website, those deciding on the new design for the new National Stadium will "undertake their investigation bending an ear to the voices of the citizens and the athletes."

Gee, what a concept.

As comedian Chris Rock would say, the Kantei wants the committee to get credit for activities any other committee knows it is just supposed to do.

Under the rubric of "putting the athletes first" the committee will, and I am not making this up, "as a principle limit the functions of the national stadium to what is necessary to put on the sporting events themselves."


How is building a structure that does the least possible and still be called an Olympics venue become "putting the athletes first"? Was a design for a structure in which Olympic events cannot be held one of the alternatives?

Then there the little matter of the design itself. The committee promises, and again I am not making this up, to "simultaneously reflect international universal design, Japaneseness and other such attributes."


How can anything have a goal of simultaneously reflecting "international universal design" and "Japaneseness" and qualities that are "like these things" – which is to say, "like" polar opposites (if something has "Japaneseness" that means by definition is it not "universal")-- qualities that are not even described? (Link – J)

Mark this still a catastrophe-in-progress.

What would save this situation would be an open, national competition, with a young unknown architect or designer offering a simple, spare and elegant design (with an impact the lines of Maya Lin's design for the Vietnam War memorial in Washington DC with its legion of imitators, including Okinawa's "Cornerstone of Peace") bailing out Abe and his cronies from the fiasco they have spawned. The narrative of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics being a citizen's Olympics could then be resurrected.

No, I am not hopeful.

Original image courtesy: Prime Minister's Residence.


Mudakun said...

Too late now, the stadium at best will be a modular aircraft hanger-like structure that can be dismantled later. Any savings will go to sticking 10 extra HVAC cooling plants around it, so basically an enormous refrigerated warehouse with a track in the middle and seating all around.
Since every Olympic stadium ever built has been a great sucking money pit after the games end, design this one to be torn down and carted off to Fukushima after (store radioactive soil in it) and leave Tokyo with a park.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back! Your insights have been sorely missed. Re today's post, far be it for me to second-guess you, but I think the mention of "(international) universal design" refers to UD, in other words, accessibility for all, known as "universal design." Still, they're spraying buzzwords all around, trying to hit every single target. Everything "under control," Mr. Abe?