Sunday September 19, 2021

Tokyo Games struggles for youth appeal despite new sports

AFP
August 05, 2021

TOKYO: The Tokyo Olympics has added skateboarding, surfing and sport climbing to attract a younger demographic, but even a medal rush hasn’t been enough to win over some Japanese youngsters.

Skateboarding resumed Wednesday after Yuto Horigome, 22, won the sport’s first ever gold for Japan and 13-year-old Momiji Nishiya became the nation’s youngest Olympic champion with victory in the women’s event.

And Japan once again struck gold, with Sakura Yosozumi taking the women’s park top spot next to teammate Kokona Hiraki, 12, with silver.

But for Emiya Ajisaka and his classmates, watching Olympic sport on TV is not a priority.

“No one is really talking about the Olympics around me,” the 13-year-old told AFP as he played football with friends at a park near some Tokyo 2020 venues.

“I’m more likely to be watching YouTube, hanging around with my friends and playing video games,” he said, adding that he only plans to watch Olympic soccer matches on TV.

“The World Cup was much more fun, wasn’t it?” he said to his friends, who nodded in agreement.

Long before Japan began to rack up medals including a surfing silver and bronze, opinion polls showed younger generations were less interested in the Olympics.

Around 63 percent of respondents in their 20s said they were “somewhat or very” interested in the Games, compared with around 85 percent of those in their 60s, according to a 2019 survey by the research unit of public broadcaster NHK.

“I don’t dislike the Olympics, but for me, the Olympics isn’t that high in my priorities, and I don’t feel so compelled to watch it live,” Ryo Kawasaki, a 24-year-old web engineer, said at a bouldering gym in Tokyo.

“If I have days off, I look for places for a trip and a hot spring or go out to watch movies. And then If I have extra time, I might take a look at the Olympics.”

Munehiko Harada, president of Osaka University of Health and Sport Science, thinks the coronavirus pandemic is “one factor behind the low interest among young people.”

It forced the historic one-year postponement of the event, and means that most competitions are being held without spectators — wiping out young people’s chances of watching their favourite sport live.

Kosei Fujiwara, a 13-year-old junior high school student, said the decision to go ahead with the Olympics despite the pandemic had turned him against the Games.

“It’s wrong to invite a lot of people from around the world to Tokyo where infections are spiking,” Fujiwara said as he played basketball with his friends.

“If there were no pandemic, I would have supported the Olympics.”

Interest in sports among younger generations remains relatively high, especially with a renewed interest in keeping active during Covid-19 lockdowns, Harada said.

“But in terms of the Olympics, their interest is clearly low... partially due to the variety of entertainment options available to young generations,” said the professor in sports marketing.

Hiroto Inoue, a 21-year-old university student, said the Olympics doesn’t engage him on issues that are important to him, like the environment.

“I’m not paying much attention to watching the Olympics,” he told AFP. “I’m focusing on a business forum about the environment that I’m hosting in late August.”

Yoshifusa Ichii, a professor of sport and society at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, said older generations in Japan have an emotional attachment to the Olympics after Tokyo hosted it in 1964.

“It was a symbolic event which reminded people of how Japan was recovering and developing in the post-war era,” Ichii said.

Many young Japanese do not have a similar bond with the Olympics, he added.

But there are some teenagers who have been drawn in to the Games, and its new sports in particular.

Haru Fujirai, 11, said he was inspired by Japan’s skateboarding champion Nishiya.

“I saw a girl who’s only two years older than I am winning the gold medal at the Olympics,” said Fujirai, who just started skateboarding last year. “I want to practice more, and some day compete in the Olympics.”