On 11 March 2011, Japan's strongest earthquake on record triggered a tsunami which destroyed thousands of lives and livelihoods. Ten years on, President Hashimoto reflects on a disaster that shook the world.
Exactly 10 years ago today, the Great East Japan Earthquake devastated the Tohoku region of Japan. I would like to express my deepest condolences to all those who lost their loved ones, their family and friends, in this tragic natural disaster. I would also like to express my deepest sympathies to all those affected by the events of 11 March 2011.
The bid for the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 began in the summer of 2011, the same year of the disaster. Immediately after the earthquake, athletes were apprehensive about doing their sports as there were many people still suffering in the aftermath. During this time, the Tokyo 2020 bid activities were not fully supported by people across Japan.
On the other hand, in the wake of this disaster, athletes began to voluntarily visit the Tohoku region, in order to help the local people in their efforts to rebuild and recover in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami. The Japanese sporting world began engaging and aiding in reconstruction activities, which created opportunities for many athletes including myself to visit the disaster-affected areas and in turn, give hope to the local people. However, I heard many times that in fact, it was often the local people who gave hope to the athletes.
This has become an irreplaceable and invaluable experience for athletes, and the Japanese sporting world as a whole. It was an opportunity to reaffirm our role in society and the power that sport can bring to those in need.
In the summer of 2011, the Japan women’s national football team, Nadeshiko Japan, became FIFA Women’s World Cup champion. Incredible support from the affected regions made the team even more united for the victory, and their achievements brought joy back to the people of Japan. The following year, London hosted the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, where the success of Japanese athletes gave further hope and encouragement to people affected by the disaster. Some of the Japanese athletes from the region were even welcomed and thanked by local people upon their return back home.
'The Power of Sport' became the central concept to our bid activities, and we realised the potential hosting the Games would have in contributing to the recovery of disaster-affected areas. Soon after, the Japanese public, even those who were affected by the disaster, gradually started to support hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Japan, and the encouragement received towards the bid strengthened the momentum to host the Games in Tokyo.
Since the Games bid, we have been consistently engaging in support activities to help energise and give hope to the people who are still making great efforts to the reconstruction of the Tohoku region.
Tokyo 2020 will host football matches in Miyagi and Kashima, and baseball and softball games in Fukushima. The Olympic flame was lit in Greece last year and arrived at Matsushima Base in Miyagi shortly after. This flame toured the three affected prefectures of Japan and was named the ‘Flame of Recovery’. The Olympic Torch Relay will start in Fukushima on 25 March, where different torch bearers will run for three days in each of the three prefectures of Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi, making the flames’ journey in these disaster-affected areas longer than others and inspiring hope in the local people. The Olympic Torch Relay’s concept of “Hope Lights Our Way” is representative of the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee’s desire to commit to the recovery and reconstruction in these areas of Japan.
While COVID-19 has led to the first-ever and unprecedented postponement of the Games, the role of sports within society has become ever more relevant. We must not forget the experiences of the sporting community over this last decade, and we must show our even stronger determination towards the contribution of the region’s recovery efforts. While doing so, we would like to do our best to bring together those whose lives have been affected by the global crisis through hosting a safe and secure Tokyo 2020 Games.