JAPAN marks today its 50th anniversary of the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo. The hosting of the games brought prestige and national pride — as well as a benchmark of economic development following the World War II.
This year’s grand event, however, is marred with controversies. Conservation groups accused the Olympic committee of causing forest destruction in the province of Sarawak, Malaysia where the timber used to construct Olympic venues are sourced out by a giant logging company, Shin Yang.
Last month, about 47 civil society organisations asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Tokyo 2020 Olympic authorities to stop exploiting tropical forests and violating human rights in the construction and implementation of the games. The groups are calling for full transparency and to end the use of rainforest wood to construct Olympic facilities, including the new National Olympic Stadium.
But the appeal does not stop the construction of venues.
Amid the games’ golden anniversary, Malaysia’s indigenous leader appealed to the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Matu Tugang, head of the Indigenous Penan community of Long Jaik from Sarawak, asked Abe to help stop Japan’s use of controversial wood from Shin Yang.
NGOs gathered evidence at the construction site in April which confirmed the use of plywood supplied by Shin Yang. The company has been allegedly logging in the area of Long Jaik for almost two decades and has previously been implicated in illegal logging, rainforest destruction, and human rights abuses.
The community of Long Jaik has been fighting with blockades to protect their forests against Shin Yang’s logging and conversion to oil palm plantations. The community has also an ongoing lawsuit against Shin Yang for violating their customary rights.
In a last attempt to save their remaining forests, the headman is turning to Shin Yang’s buyers in Japan and asking Abe to intervene.
In the letter, headman Tugang said Shin Yang had destructive logging practices and the company disregarded community’s right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent. Tugang accused Shin Yang to have been logging aggressively in their village.
“When their tractors extract a log, they just bulldoze everything around… Shin Yang has been logging our ancestral forests without our permission or consent. They have never asked us for our opinion or needs,” Tugang said.
Olympic Committee non-adherence to environmental practices
The Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) promised to adopt environmentally sound practices and to contribute to global environmental protection through continual efforts to improve its environmental management system.
In its action agenda, it aimed to support green products when making purchases, to obey environmental laws and guidelines, and to promote internal environmental educational initiatives to ensure that all JOC staff fully understand.
The basic principles for sustainable sourcing are shown giving utmost importance on how products and services are supplied, the origins of products and services and the resources from which they are made, compliance with the sourcing code throughout the supply chains, and the effective use of resources.
Olympic Committee Criticized
However, the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo Olympic authorities have been the subject of relentless criticism from an international coalition of civil society organisations critical of Tokyo 2020’s poor timber sourcing standards and lack of transparency in their timber supply chain. Despite repeated demands to disclose the origin of the timber in use for the Olympics and to end the use of Shin Yang wood and other
Despite repeated demands to disclose the origin of the timber in use for the Olympics and to end the use of Shin Yang wood and other high-risk timber, authorities have failed to respond to NGO concerns.
NGOs civic action against Tokyo for lack of transparency
Last month, about 47 civil society organisations have asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Tokyo 2020 Olympic authorities to stop exploit tropical forests.
At the IOC Executive Board Meeting in Lima, Peru, the groups sent a letter reiterating grave and mounting concerns about the legitimacy and accountability of IOC’s sustainability commitments and the reputation and credibility of the Olympic games.
Hana Heineken of Rainforest Action Network, along with other NGOs, said the Tokyo Olympic authorities are not transparent about the use of massive volumes of tropical wood to construct the new National Olympic Stadium.
They claim that the IOC’s failure to address the obvious risk of unsustainability is a clear breach of its own commitment to “include sustainability in all aspects of the Olympic Games.”
In particular, they point to a major loophole in the Tokyo 2020 procurement policy that allows wood used for concrete formwork to be exempted from the policy’s environmental, labour and human rights requirements, despite the majority of this type of wood in Japan coming from the rainforests of Malaysia and Indonesia where problems of illegal logging, rainforest destruction, and land rights violations persist.
Tokyo Olympics 2020 and economic powerhouse
The Tokyo Summer Olympics in 1964 gave Japan a chance to present itself to the world as a friendly, tech leader redeeming itself from the transgressions of war. Japan will host the prestigious event for the fourth time in 2020, another opportunity for Tokyo to showcase the innovation of new technologies.
Tokyo’s organizing committee chief executive Toshiro Muto said plans were underway to show off high-tech features like hydrogen-powered vehicles for athlete transportation and smartphone tools to aid tourists. “We have the potential to make this Olympic Games wonderful that the people of the world are going to admire.”
Many redevelopment projects are underway in central Tokyo and elsewhere, as the capital prepares to host the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. However, the games will not go without mention of the environmental impacts.
In the construction of venues and other facilities, there is a shortage of wood. Hard tropical plywood is essential to making concrete formwork. Even though the quality of formwork plywood made from Japan-grown trees is improving, it is not enough to fully compensate for reduced shipments from Malaysia.
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