Absent crowds, Tokyo Olympics have a shot at being green (Elizabeth & Jun Wen)

The 2020 Tokyo Olympic games is slated to be one of the greenest Olympic games in history. While Japan already had several energy saving measures in place such as the use of electric cars and medals made out of recycled metals, the unexpected lack of spectators at the event due to Covid-19 further added to Japan’s bid in making their Olympics green. The article highlights how the lack of spectators will reduce the Games’ carbon footprint by 12%.


The article presents Japan’s handling of the Games in a positive light, specifically in the way how an unfortunate circumstance can actually be beneficial to the environment. The article also highlights how the Olympics have been increasingly unsustainable in recent years, with the carbon emissions for a single Games surpassing the emissions created by cities such as Vancouver or Melbourne in an entire year. The push for a greener Games is also further emphasised by how climate change has already begun to impact Japan with summer temperatures reaching over 30 degrees Celsius when the Games begin. As such, Japan also hopes that their green Olympic games can be a “space for promoting decarbonisation and sustainability” with their initiatives.


The adoption of sustainability practices in Tokyo 2020 is in line with Japan’s construction of sustainability and ‘sustainable development’ as highlighted by Kirby (2011). While Japan employs tactics to reduce carbon emissions from the Games, the act of hosting the Games falls under the contradictory notion of sustainable development – whereby the act of development requires countries to tap on the use of natural resources and for the sake of economic growth (p. 163). Countries bid to host the Games in the hopes of boosting the local economy with tourism and improving the country’s reputation in the world – it is a matter of prestige rather than the celebration of sport. What is even more ironic about this article is that the lack of spectators is attributed to how the Olympics has a ‘shot’ at being green – implying that even with Japan’s sustainability measures in place, it is simply not enough to make the Olympics ‘green’ and once again placing the responsibility of reducing climate change on individuals rather than governments and corporations. If Japan was so concerned about sustainability issues, implementing tedious recycling measures as explored in Kirby’s reading, then why bother to host the Games at all? Tokyo 2020 ties into the paradox of Japan’s sustainability and supports Kirby’s argument that Japan’s sustainability is merely constructed – whether Japan truly cares about the environment is questionable despite their actions to promote sustainability and to set an example for future Olympic events.


While reading this article, we wondered if Japan’s “sustainable” initiatives are enough to cause a material impact in reducing the carbon footprint of the entire Games. While the article does talk about how scholars have suggested holding the games at a few selected cities and choosing a slower mode of transport instead of flying athletes in from around the world, we simply felt that perhaps the extravagant opening and closing ceremonies could be reduced to make the games more sustainable without reducing the significance of the Olympic Games to each and every athlete.


(529 Words)



Kapoor, K. (2021, July 22). Absent crowds, Tokyo Olympics have a shot at being green. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/absent-crowds-tokyo-olympics-have-shot-being-green-2021-07-22/

Kirby, P. W. (2011). Troubled natures: waste, environment, Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *