034 Putting a stop……to a negative chain of events

The organizers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics revealed the official logo for the Games on April 25, 2016. It took eight long months before the new Olympic logo could be unveiled since the winning emblem design for the initial competition was scrapped on September 1, 2015. There is no denying that the Tokyo 2020 Games and Olympic related projects have been dogged with problems from the get go. It began with the new National Stadium design conundrum; which was followed by the emblem design fiasco; and now we are hearing about corruption, suspicious money paid out in relation to the Tokyo bid. The Japanese people have been watching with dismay how the Tokyo Olympics become embroiled in unprecedented scandal after another. They are exhausted—they are sick and tired of these problems that seemingly drag on forever. The last thing they want is more fresh problems cropping up. Maybe it was the communal wish seeking some sort of closure that was floating in the air that did the trick. This time around, response towards the new Olympic emblem was lukewarm. Nothing strong was put forth, for better or worse. That said, I don’t think this is enough to declare that the new competition was a total success. My reasons are as follows: In order to claim this was a fair and transparent competition, the specific contents and the rationale behind the decision making had to be revealed. Yet there has been no explanation as to these vital issues. It is quite unfortunate that due to the lack of such information, in the end, the competition came off as a competition lacking in transparency. The whole process fell short of dispelling suspicion and doubts. Just like the original emblem competition that was forcibly brought to a close by concealing and keeping a lid on inconvenient facts, I am afraid that once again, this competition left an impression that was just as opaque. The lack of transparency will cast a long shadow which will follow the Olympic logo into the future, leaving behind a whiff of discomfort. Thus we lost an opportunity to cleanse the bad aftertaste. I have no doubt whatsoever that the members of the organizing committee really gave their best effort in realizing a new competition, an opportunity for redemption per se. But then, I ask, why not explain the important matters? Why not answer questions posed by reporters? To me, giving an explanation in order to rebuild trust seems to be the most obvious way to go. I am afraid the organizers will be paying a dear price for neglecting this simple task. The impact is unfathomable.

Words can exert power only when they are backed by facts and evidence. If the originator of words tries to hide inconvenient facts, or if the originator attempts to use the power of words as a way to manipulate information, he will end up contradicting himself, making a slip, and the whole point gets lost. The picture was evident in the press conferences given for the original competition. And of course the Japanese people are not that stupid. Who would be taken in by such sophism and deceit? That is why we do not feel any jubilation. We don’t see people celebrating the unveiling of the Olympic emblem. The organizers boasted that they were going to listen to the people, listen to what they want. Yet, the end result did not feel like a reflection of the people’s voices. The organizers failed to fulfill their responsibility and they chose not to account for their decision. Thus they lost the greatest opportunity to recover the trust of the people. And it was their own doing.

It was a quirk of fate that around this time the Tokyo Governor found himself embroiled in scandal; allegedly a violation of political funding laws. At the press conference, behind the Governor, there was an interview board set up displaying the Olympic emblems that had been selected just a while ago. The backdrop panel had been adopted as a way to promote the images widely and to heighten recognition of the logos—which backfired in this instance. The Olympic logos were on prominent display every time the scandal ridden Governor was grilled by reporters during these press conferences: thereby infusing a layer of suspicion to the logos, initiating a new negative chain of events.

In face of such a considerable mess, partner corporations that had pledged Olympic sponsorships are forced to be more than cautious in how they handle the Olympic logos. I checked out the corporate websites of these sponsor companies. With the exception of the very few that proudly display the official logo at the front page top, it was apparent that most of the sponsors were proceeding with extreme care. Companies were obviously testing the water, and they were in full crisis management mode. Actually, I do not think this is such a bad situation. When we think about it, if we are to get to the root of the Olympic logo problem, we must go back to the Los Angeles Olympic Games—which is widely acknowledged as the watershed moment when the Olympic business broke away from the essential nature of the Olympic Games and erupted as a forceful business model, fed by unbridled desire, creating cracks and distortions as it forged ahead. If we are to take a moment to probe into the Olympic emblem that has deviated from its original course and evolved into a formidable business tool, we must give thought to the true significance of the Olympic emblem; which is not such a bad idea.

The Olympic emblem issue started out as a problem innate to the Japanese graphic design and advertisement industries, which then grew into a major phenomenon. If all the players had faced the problem head on, from their respective perspectives and made the effort to resolve the problem, things would have turned out quite differently. Because it did not happen, we are still left grumbling even after the unveiling of a new Olympic logo. We do not want old grudges resurfacing in the future, and so that everyone can pursue their precious lives without further ado, let us not avert our eyes from problems that took place. Let us tackle them head on. By doing so, lessons will be learned which will become our strength. It will show us how to put a stop to the chain of negative events—how to make it possible. That is what I believe. Even now, I don’t think it is too late.

Keiko Hirano

Keiko Hirano:
Designer/Visioner, Executive Director of Communication Design Laboratory
Hirano served on the panel that chose the official emblem for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which was ultimately withdrawn.