Thursday. 22/7/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Junichi Toyofuku

Going for gold

I’m a big sports fan. I grew up watching the Olympics on television and still have fond memories of seeing the Nagano Games with my classmates. Since I moved to the capital, I’ve met many proud citizens who still remember attending the last Tokyo Olympics in 1964. That legacy lives on. And yet, with the opening ceremony of this year’s Games taking place tomorrow, the Japanese of today are hardly in a celebratory mood.

Pandemic fatigue aside, many are unhappy with how the Olympic situation has been handled. The Games are taking place in spite of strong opposition: polls earlier this year showed that more than 80 per cent of the public thought that the Games shouldn’t go ahead, though support has climbed a bit in the past few weeks. People have felt powerless. Repeated states of emergency have been declared and lifted in Tokyo, to suit the Games rather than the health and livelihoods of the people who make this city great. The public, who have paid for the event, have no access to watch the sports live, while the red carpet is being rolled out for IOC officials, VIPs and sponsors. IOC president Thomas Bach is taking a more sensitive tone this week but tactless comments in the run-up have led to him being described in the Japanese press as kuuki yomenai (tin-eared and unable to read the room).

The political woes, however, have nothing to do with the athletes or those who have been working hard to prepare the event on the ground. The first competition kicked off ahead of the opening ceremony: Japan’s women’s softball team (pictured) beat Australia 8-1 in Fukushima. Maybe sport will succeed where officials and politicians have failed and turn public opinion in favour of the Games. The resignation of musician Keigo Oyamada as composer (over reports resurfaced of his bullying classmates at school) has no doubt cast a shadow on tomorrow’s opening ceremony. But Japan’s flagbearers are a popular duo: NBA basketball player Rui Hachimura and gold-medal hopeful and wrestler Yui Susaki. Leaders must remember that Japan is a sport-loving nation. In the coming days and weeks, organisers will have to provide the stage for athletes to demonstrate the power of such competition to bring people together – even when political leadership has failed.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Ukraine

Channelling tensions

It would be an understatement to say that Nord Stream 2 has been a controversial project. But the latest news suggests that one of the most vocal critics of the Russia-to-Germany pipeline, the US, has given up trying to block its completion. Instead, it is pursuing a deal with Germany that was hammered out during Angela Merkel’s visit to Washington last week. The US has also reportedly asked Ukraine not to publicly criticise Joe Biden’s U-turn. It’s a sore spot since the eastern European nation will be severely affected by the construction of a pipeline that will allow Russia to bypass lucrative land routes through its territory. Merkel has also sought to offer assurances that Ukraine will remain a transit route for natural gas. “Kiev is hardly happy at the issue being buried but it needs Washington more than vice versa,” regional expert Mark Galeotti tells The Monocle Minute. “So while it will grumble enough to make sure it gets some sort of compensation, that’s as far as it goes.”

Hear more on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and Ukraine on today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Colombia

More of the same

In a bid to assuage protests that have rocked Colombia for months, president Iván Duque this week unveiled a $3.95bn (€3.4bn) tax-reform bill that’s framed as a more comprehensive proposal than earlier versions. But for demonstrators who turned out again on Tuesday, the reforms are mostly a case of déjà vu. Earlier this year, following a period of violent unrest that left at least 44 people dead, the government scrapped its original tax-reform proposals.

“In his speech to congress, Duque portrayed the new bill as a way to overcome crises that have arisen due to the pandemic and to generate resources,” Vinicius de Carvalho, senior lecturer at King’s College London’s war studies department and director of the Brazil Institute, tells The Monocle Minute. “But the protest’s origins predate tax-reform projects. They’re related to social inequalities, poverty and unemployment.” These are not issues that a new tax-reform proposal can fix.

Image: Getty Images

Culture / USA

Ready player one

Having enjoyed a boom in subscriptions last year when lockdown forced people in front of their screens, Netflix today finds itself stuck in a numbers rut. The streaming leader is desperately seeking new avenues for growth as other services make up ground, bagging plenty of award nominations at ceremonies such as the Emmys in the process. As a result, Netflix stocks are stalling. Earlier reports suggested that the company, which has already reached critical mass with younger audiences (particularly in the US and UK), might try to woo the silver set with new programmes commissioned to appeal to an older demographic, focusing on crime and documentaries. But it appears that there is one service it hasn’t tried with youngsters yet: it has recently confirmed that it will soon start to offer video games. Founder and co-CEO Reed Hastings (pictured) says that a successful launch would allow Netflix to improve the value of its streaming subscription (and perhaps increase its monthly fee). But that means taking on some of the giants in the industry, such as Microsoft. Once again, it’s game on.

Image: PinPep

Arts / UK

Streets ahead

It’s one of the biggest public art commissions that London has ever seen. The Piccadilly Art Takeover, a partnership between the Royal Academy of Arts and Art of London, opens today, transforming original artworks into 30 hanging panels and 13 painted murals on pedestrian crossings. All five of the contributing artists are chosen by the Royal Academy and their works celebrate the rich cultural history of the West End. “It’s important to celebrate the city opening up,” artist Michael Armitage (pictured, on left), who designed some of the panels, tells The Monocle Minute. “And to recognise what’s allowed and the simple joy of being able to be with other people for the first time in a long time.” What better way to ensure that your city remains vibrant than by integrating art into the built environment, letting you experience world-class works on a stroll through town? And while much of the narrative in London has been about getting businesses open again, it’s refreshing to see cultural institutions providing some colour too.

M24 / Food Neighbourhoods

Recipe edition, Mariana Velásquez

The James Beard award-winning author and food stylist shares a recipe for a refreshing summer cocktail from Colombia.

Monocle Films / Italy

The Monocle Book of Italy

Allow us to introduce you to our new publication, The Monocle Book of Italy. Our latest title celebrates the much-loved Mediterranean nation through fantastic photography, witty illustrations and plenty of insightful writing. Join us for a colourful tour. Order your copy at the Monocle Shop.

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