Hiroshima, Nagasaki pushing possible bid for 2020 Olympics

Olympics officials keep trying to discourage Hiroshima and Nagasaki from bidding for the games, at least in a joint fashion. But, somewhat reminiscent of the U.S. children’s story about a train confronted with a very steep hill, “The Little Engine That Could,” the two cities keep up their effort, insisting, “I think I can. I think I can.”

Or, in this case, “We think we can.”

On New Years Day, the Hiroshima Peace Media Center published an English-language report that the president of Japanese Olympic Committee had let the mayors know that the national group wouldn’t even accept a joint bid. That’s because the bureaucratic, image-conscious international Olympics movement has a rule that, at least as it is being interpreted, restricts bids to a single city. And, it is said, there’s simply no time to change the rule in time for bidding on the games.

The story, which was based on a newspaper article in the media center’s parent Chugoku Shimbun, certainly sounded like the cities’ effort had hit a dead end. Today, however, I found a report in USA Today that Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba and Tomihisa Taue want to continue their uphill effort. They are expected to meet this week with Chiharu Igaya, a longtime International Olympic Committee leader and a 1956 silver medalist in Alpine skiing, to seek his support.

As someone who has Winter Games experience, Igaya has undoubtedly noticed that the one-city rule seems to have some flexibility. Just to the north of Seattle, where I’m writing this, Vancouver, British Columbia, is about to host the Winter Olympic Games with many events a two-hour drive away in Whistler, if the roads aren’t too icy. But Nagasaki and Hiroshima? That’s apparently different. Admittedly, they are about three and a half hours or so apart by express train. But their common history certainly unites them in a way that is unique.

Hiroshima’s Mayor Akiba said it is possible his city could serve as host of the games but with some of the events held in Nagasaki. Taue has been quoted as saying that Nagasaki is too small to host the games on its own.

As challenging as the Olympics are for any city to organize, there would surely be some additional complications for the two cities, but also some additional resources in finances, organizational support and volunteer efforts. And they would have the power of the idea that, by 2020, the world should be celebrating the abolition of nuclear weapons or at least marking progress in non-proliferation and disarmament.

A couple of times this week, as I went back through notes from my research in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it struck me how much energy people would have to put into organizing for the Olympics. Shinji Noma, who spearheads Hiroshima’s small Amnesty International chapter, talked about the difficulty of getting people to involve themselves in the group.

During another interview, Abbey Pratt-Harrington, a student from Willmington College in Ohio who was doing a research project about 20th century peace activist Barbara Reynold’s life, mentioned how international visitors to the World Friendship Center, a bed-and-breakfast Reynolds established, particularly enjoy going to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park when volunteer interpreter Akiko Awa conducts tours. I had happened to be impressed with Awa’s energy, directness and passion for the city’s history when I spoke to a group of interpreters. But, going over the notes, it struck me again that there are not huge numbers of people available to take on extra efforts as volunteers.

Hiroshima is, after all, a city of a little over 1.1 million people; Nagasaki has about 450,000 residents. Even together, the population is a far cry from such potential rivals as New Delhi and Istanbul. But Budapest, another possible 2020 candidate, has only about 1.7 million people.

Whatever the challenges, Hiroshima and Nagasaki still are interested in pursuing the bid and putting on the games. They think they can, which seems good enough for now.

Joe Copeland, associate editor for Crosscut.com, was a visiting researcher at Hiroshima City University’s Hiroshima Peace Institute in 2009 as a Fulbright Scholar.

Copyright 2010, Joe Copeland

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