Olympics Postponement Big Setback For Japan's Abe, May Play Out Differently For His Career

Olympics Postponement Big Setback for Japan's Abe, May Play Out Differently for His Career

The postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, caused by the global pandemic of the deadly coronavirus, is a huge blow to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who considered the event as his premiership's flagship project, experts told Sputnik, but their opinions on what kind of impact this will have on his political career are divided

MOSCOW (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 26th March, 2020) The postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, caused by the global pandemic of the deadly coronavirus, is a huge blow to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who considered the event as his premiership's flagship project, experts told Sputnik, but their opinions on what kind of impact this will have on his political career are divided.

Following phone talks between the Tokyo organizers and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Tuesday, Abe announced a decision to postpone the Olympics for about a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The official name of the event will remain the same, the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, and the Olympic flame will stay in the country.

Prior to the announcement, several countries said that they would not send their athletes to the Tokyo Olympics over coronavirus concerns should the Games be held in late July-August as initially planned. Moreover, a poll conducted by the Kyodo news agency in mid-March showed that some 70 percent of Japanese citizens believed that the games should be postponed.

"The 2020 Olympics was a symbol of Abe's huge political success in bringing the games to Tokyo for the second time and joining the exclusive club of the few countries and cities that have hosted the Olympics twice," Purnendra Jain, a professor in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of Adelaide, told Sputnik.

Ra Mason, a lecturer in international relations and Japanese foreign policy at the University of East Anglia, also suggested that Abe partly viewed the Olympic Games as a symbol of the success of his premiership and as his flagship project.

"There are also evidently major commercial implications for canceling the games in 2020. As such, he was understandably reluctant to [postpone] until that became politically untenable as a position," Mason told Sputnik.

Abe's reluctance to postpone the games, according to the expert, is likely to have a limited impact on his image domestically but can severely affect it on the international level.

"The fact that the COVID-19 epidemic is yet to really explode in Japan means that, in combination with state media's already relative reluctance to directly criticize the leadership, although he faces minor criticism from opposition parties, the domestic backlash is less fervent than that seen from international critics, some of whom have already slammed Abe's attempt to stall for as long as possible as short-sighted and irresponsible," Mason said.

SUCCESS OR 'BEGINNING OF THE END'?

Professor Jain of the University of Adelaide, in turn, asserted that Abe might even benefit from the move.

"I am not sure whether his popularity would decline significantly because of this. Indeed the postponement might give Abe an opportunity to go for a general election around the summer time to get a fresh mandate and possibly extend his term further," he said.

Brad Glosserman, the deputy director of the Center for Rule Making Strategies at the Tama University in Japan, on the contrary, suggested that Abe's hesitation to postpone the Olympic Games earlier may become "the beginning of the end" of his premiership amid the criticism of the lack of bold measures to contain COVID-19 in the country.

"If it ends up that he somehow [was] more focused on glamour and spectacle of hosting the Olympics than controlling this disease and, never, as they said, really got firm about it because he did not want to scare anybody off, then that becomes really damning for him," the expert underlined.

Glosserman suggested that rather than being seen as the decisive leader who pulled Japan out of a crisis, Abe became a politician with misplaced priorities due to his refusal to postpone the Olympics until the last moment, which made the situation worse.

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