In a recent interview in New York, Tokyo governor Naoki Inose disparaged 2020 Olympic bid competitor Istanbul, suggesting that Islamic countries were “fighting with each other.” Backlash from his remarks prompted Inose, who also serves as chairman of Tokyo’s Olympic bid committee, to apologize and admit that his remarks were “inappropriate.”
“I said that Islamic countries fight, it was an inappropriate remark and I want to correct it,” Inose said at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building on Tuesday. “I apologize. My remarks caused misunderstandings among people from Muslim countries, so I would like to unequivocally apologize.”
Inose made the comments in question while speaking through an interpreter in New York last week when he said, “For the athletes, where will be the best place to be? Well, compare the two countries where they have yet to build infrastructure, very sophisticated facilities. So, from time to time, like Brazil, I think it’s good to have a venue for the first time.”
At this point, he put his foot in it, adding that “the only thing they (Islamic countries) share in common is Allah and they are fighting with each other, and they have classes.”
In response, a tweet appeared on Istanbul 2020’s Twitter account from Turkey’s youth and sports minister Suat Kilic: “The negative statements of the Chair of Tokyo 2020 are unfair and disheartening.”
Inose, who replaced the controversial long-time Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara last December, has since backtracked, amid fear that his comments may jeopardize Tokyo’s bid due to a rule prohibiting candidate cities from commenting on their competitors.
The International Olympic Committee has a rule against comparing bidding cities in its Code of Ethics, Article 14 (“Relations between cities”). The rule states: “The cities shall refrain from any act or comment likely to tarnish the image of a rival city or be prejudicial to it. Any comparison with other cities is strictly forbidden.”
The perceived violation of this tenet has embarrassed and prompted concerns that Tokyo’s prospect of winning the bid could have been weakened by Inose’s remarks. “The report by a major overseas media organization will certainly not improve the chances of our bid," a senior metropolitan government official told the Asahi Shimbun.
After receiving an email from the International Olympic Committee on Tuesday, Japanese Olympic Committee president Tsunekazu Takeda insisted that Inose was not fully aware of the rules on comparing Olympic bid contenders.
“Although his sincere thoughts differ from the content of the story published, he acknowledges that his comments related to another bid city and religion may have conflicted with the IOC guidelines and, as a result, offered his profound apologies,” Takeda said in a statement.
Inose went further to ensure that he’d learned his lesson. "I want to keep campaigning strictly in accordance with the IOC rules that one should not criticize other cities," he added. "From now on I will campaign along these proper guidelines with respect to other cities' bids so that such incidents don't happen anymore."
While it is yet to be seen if any further repercussions will come about as the result of Inose’s comments, as it stands the city’s odds look good. The 2020 Olympic host will be announced at the next International Olympic Committee session in Argentina this September.
For the sake of Tokyo’s chances, let’s hope the lesson has been learned.