The latest threat to the Rio de Janiero Olympics, scheduled to begin on August 5, is the threat of serious birth defects and other diseases caused by the mosquito-borne Zika virus.
And what does this bode for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020? Nikkan Gendai (Jan 21) doesn't know. Instead, it's got its eye on a completely different type of pestilence: Russian-based organized crime groups that it says are already drooling over the prospects of a lucrative earnings in the period leading up to, and during, the Tokyo Olympic games.
Some 5,000 to 6,000 Russian criminal gangs are said to be operating, within the boundaries of the Russian republic as well as abroad. One of their ways of generating profits has been match-fixing in tennis and other professional sports.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has tied up with the International Criminal Police Organization (ICPO) and cracked down vigorously on drugs, resulting in Russia last November being ruled in breach of WADA codes, along with Argentina, Ukraine, Bolivia, Andorra and Israel. The crackdown is said to have cut substantially into gang revenues.
With plans apace for Japan to raise its consumption tax to 10% from April 2017, sports is the sole sector where strong growth is likely to continue. Last year, the government increased sports-related outlays in fiscal 2016 by an additional 3.4 billion yen, to reach an all-time high of 32.4 billion yen. The distribution of funding will be determined by the Japan Sports Council (JSC) and other groups, and -- reflecting the government's determination to grab as many medals as possible in the events, it is expected that some top athletes will be eligible to receive monthly stipends of 2 million yen and above, making them an attractive target for organized crime.
The Japan Olympic Committee (JOC) has reportedly set its sights on the national team taking between 25 to 30 gold medals -- achieving third place overall in the medal standings -- as well as athletes realizing eighth place or higher in a total of 28 events, including judo, swimming, wrestling and others.
"What's scary," says sports writer Kensaku Kudo, "is that in the elimination events held before the games, the sports media whips the public into a frenzy over Japan's medal prospects, putting heavy pressure on the athletes and their trainers. Those who are mentally tough will use those pressures as a springboard. But there's nothing strange about others caving into the pressure and turning to performance-enhancing drugs."
Nikkan Gendai recalls the unhappy fate of Olympic marathon runner Kokichi Tsuburaya, who "only" received a bronze medal in the 1964 Tokyo Games. He afterwards remarked to a Japanese teammate, "I committed an inexcusable blunder in front of the Japanese people. I have to make amends by running and hoisting the Hinomaru flag in the next Olympics, in Mexico." Unable to train for the upcoming games due to lower back problems, Tsuburaya committed suicide in February 1968. He was 27 years old.
The routes for illegal doping and other drug use seldom involve direct contacts between athletes and suppliers. Typically, the coaches or trainers administer them to their trusting wards as "supplements" -- as was the case with Tyson Gay, who had his silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics rescinded over use of a banned substance, the alleged source of which was his coach.
Aware of the heavy pressure on national teams to take medals, Russian gangsters are expected to focus on hawking their illegal goods to coaches and trainers. And considering that test specimens following events are retained for 10 years, positive diagnoses might not be detected until several years after the fact. When and if that happens, the untainted image enjoyed up to now by Japan's athletes might be tarnished in one fell swoop.© Japan Today