Japan is set to host the 2020 Olympics to customary pomp and circumstance, but the crowning of the winning athletes may — for the first time — come with a bigger message. A recent proposal could see Japan give out recycled medals for the Tokyo Olympics as part of its Olympics committee's efforts to create an environmentally "sustainable" foundation for the international sporting event. The proposal suggests the gold, silver, and bronze medals be constructed from old electronic parts like cellphones, computers, and other products with precious metals.
The proposal was put together by a task force in charge of creating a "legacy plan" for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, The Telegraph reported. Task force chairman Hiroshi Komiyama told reporters that the idea will be submitted to the Tokyo Organising Committee later in January for formal approval.
The 19-person team had set out to find a creative way for the games to have a lasting legacy, a starkly different direction than previous countries have taken in their preparation to host the Olympics.
Though often an electrifying event where host countries have the opportunity to flaunt their "arrival" at the international playing stage, strong arguments say that the glitz of the Olympic games comes at a huge cost.
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The 2014 Sochi Olympics, for example, holds the infamous title of being the most expensive in history. But outside of the financial costs, it also left behind a staggering impact on the environment, the community, and even political climate as the government cracked down heavily on local activists protesting the seemingly haphazard construction and displacement of Sochi residents.
Other such international sporting events are not exempt. Similar efforts to put out shiny displays of performance often veil the extreme burden it places on the local population and environment, and are evident in the largest soccer tournament in the world — the coveted World Cup.
Hosted by Brazil in 2014, the World Cup was plagued early by harsh government retaliation to protests against the $11 billion poured into the mega sporting event while many in Brazil languished in poverty. An estimated 170,000 Brazilians lost their homes due to the construction or renovation infrastructure projects in preparation for the World Cup. Multiple deaths were reported as organizers rushed to finish building stadiums.
Yet as Qatar stands ready to flesh out $220 billion to host the 2022 World Cup, eerie echoes of the issues that the Brazilian government swept aside are being reported. Labor conditions for those working on Qatar's World Cup infrastructure are still painfully abysmal: according to Amnesty International, the laborers are migrants whose employers have withheld pay, placed them in squalid camps, and confiscated their passports to keep them from leaving. Many have died, too, toiling in the desert heat for as many as 100 hours a week. All this despite the Qatari authorities' promises to investigate and correct what amounted to human right violations.
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Looking back on the checkered history of such sporting events, Japan's intention of building a sustainable bedrock for the 2020 Olympics is a much-welcomed change. Let's hope its proposal for recycled medals is only the beginning.
Cover image via Neale Cousland / Shutterstock