There’s an events schedule that sits on my laptop detailing the year’s key forthcoming trade gatherings, art fairs and symposiums. As 2021 started, I was hopeful that vaccinations and a better understanding of how to keep people safe from coronavirus would allow a good number of these events to happen in some format but the “let’s cancel” culture continues apace and sometimes it’s hard to fathom the logic.
Yesterday the organisers of the Tokyo Motor Show, scheduled to take place this autumn, announced that they were slamming on the brakes and ditching the enterprise over pandemic-related fears. Another day, another cancellation, you might think. But here’s the mystery: the Olympics start in Tokyo on 23 July and will have been completed long in advance of when the auto jamboree was supposed to bring together some motorheads. This decision hints at a lack of joined-up thinking at Japan Inc level and at wobbly national confidence.
This week I have been interviewing IOC officials for The Urbanist to produce a duo of shows about the Tokyo Olympics, the Games’ legacy and the future of the movement. And the mood music from the IOC HQ in Lausanne suggests that the organisers have put in place a testing regime and a panoply of safety procedures that will allow the event to proceed – minus an influx of international spectators but with thousands of athletes from around the world present. “We have to be very honest that this is not easy,” Gavin McAlpine, the IOC’s Olympic Games delivery associate director, told me. “It can be a success; albeit in a very different way. I’m sure that when the magic takes place in Tokyo, people will see it as something truly fantastic. And when we look back in years to come, it will be seen as a fundamental step in how Japan presents itself to the world for decades to come.” And he’s right. Even if events are pared back, staged outdoors and involve more tests than your nose would like, they are a boon for soft power, trade (ie people’s jobs and life chances) and how we feel. So why the Japanese car industry cannot be a little more ambitious – hopeful – is strange.
Look, it’s a mixed story in Europe too. The Venice Biennale will proceed and the UK is opening up a series of events to make sure its testing regime can keep people safe in football stadiums and music gigs but insurance problems are putting paid to many other events. Will Milan’s Salone del Mobile furniture fair happen? Rumours swirl but we hope so. So yes, it’s tricky and demanding on nerves to press ahead with organising anything these days. But if the Olympics take place without too many upsets, perhaps others will be able to calm their nerves and stay behind the steering wheel. Let’s get our acts together.
Listen to the full interview with Gavin McAlpine on the latest episode of ‘The Urbanist’ on Monocle 24.