After a one-year delay and much debate over whether the event should go ahead, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Games concluded on August 8 with the closing ceremony featuring the Japanese word “Arigato” (“Thank you”). Political leaders, sports officials, and athletes across the world have praised Japan’s capability and dedication for completing the Games as scheduled, despite numerous challenges caused by the global pandemic. The country’s sporting success, with its national team winning the most medals in history, has generated a sense of excitement and pride among Japanese citizens, many of whom previously opposed holding the Games this summer.
At a glance, the operational and sporting excellence that Japan demonstrated at the Tokyo Olympics, as well as improved public support, indicates the Games were a success for the host country. We argue, however, that the success of hosting the Games, which cost the country at least US$15 billion, must also be evaluated based on their broader social impact.
Several types of social impact, or so-called legacies, could be associated with a mega-sports event like the Olympics. Of them, one that deserves special attention is the promotion of diversity and inclusion among local residents. After all, the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games had chosen “unity in diversity” as one of the three core concepts for the Olympiad. In their words, this means “accepting and respecting differences in race, colour, gender, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, level of ability or other status.”
Japan’s quest for unity in diversity
The concept of unity in diversity – and the promotion of diversity and inclusion principles – has become more relevant across the world, given a surge of human rights movements. For Japan, a traditionally homogeneous society, this has not only social and political significance but also economic implications. A shrinking and aging population means that Japan must empower every citizen, regardless of their background or characteristics, to become productive members of society. This also includes opening up the country to foreigners who can contribute to the country’s economic development and prosperity.