Japan, having won the privilege of hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics, is pushing its athletes to double their best-ever medal haul in Tokyo. Experts have pointed out, though, that the debt-laden nation will need to spend big if it wants home-field advantage to translate into medals. Traditionally, hosting the summer sports event brings a marked increase for the hosting country in the medals table, with the United Kingdom bagging 29 golds in London last year against its 19 in 2008 in Beijing. Japan’s best haul was 16 gold medals in 1964 at the first Tokyo Olympics. Japan’s sports ministry wants its 2020 team to get 70-80 medals, of which 25-30 should be golds.
“It will be very difficult,” sports sociologist Toshio Saeki said, adding that China and South Korea are sure to ramp up their efforts to solidify their ranks as Asia’s no. 1 and no. 2 sporting powers, respectively. “But setting a high goal like this could help as it will urge people to work hard,” said Saeki, a professor at the Japan Sports Wellness University. One of the main concerns for the 2020 team will be the financial outlay for pushing towards a bigger medal haul. “Japan is a country whose sports-related budget has been limited by world standards,” said Tsukuba University assistant professor Yoshio Takahashi, a sports management expert. That situation, coupled with Japan’s debt-to-GDP ratio of more than 200 percent and tax revenues that are shrinking as its society ages will make it a challenge to put up the financial foundation to push for more medals in 2020.
The sports ministry’s target haul of 25-30 gold medals would put Japan in an estimated medals table position between third and fifth, this based on results from recent Games. This position tallies with the goals of the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) under its medium-term plan and seen as an appropriate placing for the world’s number-three economy. At London 2012, Britain’s 29 gold medals put the host country in third place, but Britain had spent over 264 million pounds (around US$425 million) over four years to train their Olympic athletes. With Japan shouldering much of the construction costs for the Olympics and with the Fukushima nuclear disaster still a thorn on the country’s side, it will be interesting to know where the government plans to source out these funds, even as a whole country now knows the lofty goals it has set for its athletes.