By Madalyn Howitt
The Olympics are one of the world’s biggest TV spectacles, but for those who are working behind the scenes, there’s nothing quite like being on the ground where the action is happening.
Earlier in the Games, the Sports Pages spoke with Sachiyo Sato, a high school English teacher from Tokyo who is working onsite at the Olympics.
As the Games came to a close, Sato reflected on her one-of-kind Olympic experience and how she feels the Games will be remembered.
“I really enjoyed working at the Olympics sites, but now I feel a little tired and relieved to end the job,” said Sato, speaking during one of her short breaks from her duties at the Aquatic Centre.
She admitted that like the athletes, staff/volunteers sometimes found it difficult to work in the hot weather, especially at outdoor events and after long days.
“Since the middle of July until now, we haven’t had much rain, so I spent lots of energy because of the heat and humidity,” she explained, adding that the possibility of a typhoon hitting Tokyo during the Games was also a weather-related concern for many (that thankfully didn’t become a reality).
One of the highlights for Sato was meeting so many different people through her job at the Aquatic Centre, where she was responsible for guiding people in-and-out of the building and tending to the events and facilities. She said many people, like her, were working at the Olympics to keep themselves busy during the summer.
“Many kinds of people were working, like people from the tourism [industry] who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, and even some famous comedians are working [here] because comedy shows are off,” she said, adding that she met many university students who found work at the Olympics during their summer holiday.
Because of her specific job requirements and due to health precautions, Sato couldn’t watch as many live events as she had hoped to, but she enjoyed hearing stories about catching glimpses of famous athletes from her friends who were volunteering in different venues.
She also enjoyed collecting mementos from her time on the job. In the last two weeks, she’s amassed a small collection of pin badges from international media teams and displays them on her accreditation badge lanyard.
“They’re good memories of the Games,” she said.
Despite her own positive experience onsite, however, Sato admits that when she looks at the big picture, she has mixed feelings about the legacy of these Olympics.
“I think there are some good points and bad points. In Japan, there has been a rapid surge of COVID patients during the Games,” she noted. “Some say that’s because of the Delta variant spread, while some say the Games are responsible, although even experts say the Olympic village and sites are the safest places to be because people get checked every day, and [the Olympics have] nothing to do with this surge. Still, the Olympics brought a lot of fear to people [in Japan].”
Like many, Sato was also frustrated with how the Olympics were organized, especially by the people at the top.
“I would say these Olympics are not successful [in that way]. It wasn’t nice that the people in charge changed so many times,” she said, referring to organizers like the former president of the Tokyo organizing committee Yoshiro Mori, and Hiroshi Sasaki, the former creative director for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, who both resigned in February after making sexist comments about women.
“The process looked so weird, people said very bad things about the people responsible and then they quit their positions. Those [kinds of] things happened many times, even just several days before the opening ceremony, when producers [of the opening and closing ceremonies] had to quit and ruined it totally. Because of this kind of power struggle and COVID-19, Tokyo 2020 was not perfect, but we could have made it perfect,” she said.
The lack of spectators and international tourists meant that many preparations that were made throughout Japan for the Games went unused. A CBC National news report for example noted how residents of Fukushima, badly affected by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that triggered the Daiichi nuclear disaster, were hopeful that tourism from the Games would help reinvigorate their prefecture. Also, many eager volunteers were told their services wouldn’t be needed after all.
Still, the thrills of watching the athletes perform on the world stage did eventually win over many detractors, Sato observed.
“On the other hand, people enjoyed watching the Games, even people who had been against [them] have changed their attitude totally,” she said, sharing that her favourite event to watch was skateboarding (which Japanese athletes excelled at, bringing home a whopping five medals from the park and street skating events).
And as a high school English teacher, Sato particularly noticed how her students responded to the Olympics. After delays, controversies and the still-looming threat of a global health crisis, Sato said the spectacle of the Games brought some much-needed excitement to youth in Japan.
“I found young people looked very lively when they talked about the Games. Some young people usually don’t want to show their emotions, but now they look different,” she said.
“In this way, having the Olympics was a good thing.”
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