Japan looking to sports to help rebuild country

Associated Press
Pictures of ships are left in an area devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, northern Japan Wednesday, April 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
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A Japanese Olympic executive wants his country to host major sporting events to show the world it is recovering from the multiple disasters, but has acknowledged the challenge in justifying a bid for the 2020 Summer Games.

"We need to be hosting major international events to inspire the whole nation, to encourage the youth of Japan to move forward and aspire to be champions and to significantly boost the morale of the whole nation," Japanese Olympic Association vice president Masato Mizuno said Wednesday.

"International sporting events will also help the international community realize that most of Japan is functioning."

Several events in Japan, including the world figure skating championships, have been canceled since the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami struck on March 11, leading to about 25,000 deaths and a lingering nuclear radiation crisis.

The cost of the disasters could possibly reach a record $309 billion, and Mizuno concedes the JOA would need to persuade the nation that it is worth funding an Olympic bid.

"We have to really convince people that there is a quite a high value of sports and the Olympic value. It really makes the people feel encouraged ... we believe this amount of money is worth it," said Mizuno, before downplaying any possible sympathy vote.

"I am sure the Olympic family has so much compassion towards the damage but we have to make an effort, without the tragic events, to get the support from all the members. We don't know that we will run or not, but we will do our best."

A bid for the 2020 Olympics — with Tokyo the likely location — will hinge on the city government elections on April 10.

IOC President Jacques Rogge believes its too soon to discuss a bid by Japan.

"I don't think today is the moment to discuss a bid — this is a nation in mourning and under great duress," said Rogge, adding that he will attend the JOA centenary celebrations in July.

Tokyo staged the 1964 Olympics but bid unsuccessfully for the 2016 Games, which were awarded to Rio de Janeiro.

National Olympic committees have until Sept. 1 to submit the bid cities for the 2020 games to the IOC. Rome is the only city so far to have been officially nominated.

South Africa is expected to submit a bid, with Durban the most likely candidate. Madrid, Istanbul, Doha and Dubai are among the other potential contenders.

Japan and others will wait until after the IOC votes on July 6 on the host city for the 2018 Winter Games.

The candidates are Pyeongchang, South Korea; Munich; and Annecy, France. If Pyeongchang wins, it's unlikely Japan would go ahead with a 2020 bid as the IOC would be reluctant to vote for another Asian city so soon.

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