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From the Olympics Toward Tomorrow


Reducing Dependence on Government

Nagano's Incommunicable Philosophy

    Discovering how to communicate "Games from the Heart- Together with Love" to the world

Among the excited uproar at the World Speed Skating Championships last February 15 at Nagano City's M-Wave venue, a small group in one room was engaged in discussions concerning "Nagano Olympic Aid."

Johann Olav Koss, a gold medallist in three speed skating events at the Lillehammer Olympics who has become a hero of sorts in his home country of Norway, was sitting across from Nagano City mayor Tasuku Tsukada. Koss has been involved in social charity activities and has been active as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. He read in a newspaper back home that the Nagano Olympic Aid program would be suspended and came to Nagano to appeal that it be continued.

Pictures created by children from Sarajevo on display at Sanbonyanagi Elementary School in Nagano City. It is still difficult to see how NAOC intends to express a message of "peace" to the world.

Olympic Aid was started by Lillehammer in 1992 (which in turn invited other Olympic host cities to participate) as a program to help children affected by civil war in the former Yugoslavia. Koss and others visited different countries to ask for cooperation. The more than 900 million yen that was collected as contributions would be used for building schools and other facilities in the 1984 Winter Olympic host city Sarajevo. The group's philosophy of the Olympics as an engine for world peace was highly repected.

The campaign was carried on at last year's Atlanta Olympics, but it was there that a break in leadership between the IOC and UNICEF began to develop. The IOC blamed UNICEF for "using the Olympics as a place for fund-raising." Nagano's Olympic Aid organization was now up in the air.

Koss says, "Olympic Aid is important inasmuch as it contributes to peace, helping needy children around the world.. We would very much like Nagano to also implement this type of program." Mayor Tsukada, in the thirty minute conference, stated, "Nagano will do the same sort of program independently," leaving Koss quite relieved.

According to city administrators, Nagano is "being bounced around between UNICEF and the IOC." Notwithstanding the fact that Nagano was entrusted to implement the program at the closing ceremonies in Lillehammer, there is little positive action being undertaken by neither NAOC nor Nagano City.

The "Basic Operational Plan" released by NAOC in March 1995 states, "We will look for suitable ways to implement Olympic Aid in Nagano." But Sotaro Kamata, Chief of NAOC's Planning and Financial Section, says, "Lillehammer passed its program specifically to Nagano City. We thought that the city would be playing the lead role (in this area)." Atsutaka Matsui, an administrator in Nagano City's Olympic Bureau, explains, "We consulted with NAOC and the Prefecture on the issue, but it just didn't really go anywhere."

Nagano's example has shown that government does a decent job getting ready various "material" such as facilities and roads for the Olympics. The IOC will likely give high marks to Nagano on how well it has been able to prepare these facilities. But what kind of soul is Nagano attempting to instill in all of this "material?"

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The basic theme for the Nagano Olympics is "Games From the Heart- Together with Love." NAOC Director General Makoto Kobayashi says, "By making available half-priced children's tickets, and with the Ministry of Education publishing a supplemental reader on the Games for children nationwide, we are concentrating our efforts on making the next Olympics a chance for kids to participate more than ever before." But, compared with Atlanta, which accepted Lillehammer's Olympic Aid and "environmentally aware Olympics" invitations and also put forward the visions of "Making Dreams into Reality" and "Living in Racial Harmony," Nagano's message is still difficult to see.

"Even though Nagano is doing more in concern for the environment than Lillehammer did, this message is not being communicated. It's probably because Japanese are just not very good at 'selling themselves.'" Some within NAOC lament that this has been one down point.

Olympic Aid will once again make an appearance in Nagano, albeit under a different name. NAOC plans to unveil it sometime in mid-May. Invitations to participate will be limited to within Japan only. It is unclear whether or not a hopeful Koss will be able to take part. Mayor Tsukada strongly asserts, "We've had our ups-and-downs, but we want to put our energies in something that has meaning so that the legacy of fund-raising at the Nagano Olympics will live on."

Michael Payne, Director of Marketing for the IOC, in a visit to Nagano City on April 16, said the following regarding Nagano's appeal to international society. "Foreign athletes and media will marvel when they see these wonderful competitive facilities." However, if there's nothing other than "wonderful facilities " to cling to, it will be difficult to be regarded for anything other than just that we were "playing it safe."

(originally run April 28, 1997)

No part of the article, photographs, or illustrations presented here may be printed or used without permission.

Copyright 1999 The Shinano Mainichi Shimbun