Olympic Boss Wanted Flame Lit by ‘Pure Japanese’ Ex-Yankee Player, Not Osaka

·4 min read
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Getty/Alamy
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Getty/Alamy

TOKYO—The 2020 Olympics delighted the world when, at the opening ceremony on July 23, biracial tennis superstar Naomi Osaka—with a rose-gold torch in her hand—lit the Olympic cauldron.

But that wasn’t the original plan. According to Olympic insiders who spoke to The Daily Beast, disgraced former Tokyo Organizing Committee chair Yoshiro Mori was pushing to have someone else do the honors.

“Mori wanted ‘Godzilla’ to light the Olympic flame at the end, not Naomi Osaka, ” an employee for the committee, who spoke on conditions of anonymity due to a punitive non-disclosure agreement, told The Daily Beast.

“Godzilla” is the nickname for Hideki Matsui, a legendary Japanese baseball outfielder who played for the Yomiuri Giants and the New York Yankees, with a total of 507 home runs in his two-decade career. The nickname is an homage to his batting power. Matsui is a good sport about his nickname, even making a guest appearance in the film “Godzilla Versus Mechagodzilla.”

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Many of the top dogs involved in the Tokyo Olympics, including Governor Yuriko Koike, had special requests for the event, and Mori was among them. The Olympics employee said that Mori was insistent on Matsui lighting the “sacred fire.” Worth noting, too, is that Mori has served as the honorary chairman of Matsui’s fan club in Ishikawa Prefecture, where the baseball player was born.

According to the employee, Mori had told the staff: “[Matsui] is a pure Japanese man and a baseball champion in the U.S. and Japan—the embodiment of fighting spirit.”

Mori allegedly also just thought Matsui’s nickname was funny, given the occasion. “Funny in the sense that Godzilla breathes flames, and Matsui would be lighting the cauldron,” the staffer said.

There were other suggestions for the final person in the torch relay, but Mori was allegedly not open to any of them. An employee with Dentsu, a PR firm exclusively partnered with the Games, who worked on the opening ceremony told The Daily Beast that “Mori wanted Matsui. If he wanted something changed or something done, then it was done. Mori was practically the voice of God.”

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Speaking of gods, even after Matsui was decided upon, there was grave concern that the chair would make an inappropriate remark about it. When Mori was Japan’s prime minister in 2000, he had said in a speech, “Japan is a nation of the gods, with the emperor in the center,” a controversial statement that echoed militarist sentiments of imperial Japan.

The actual emperor of Japan, despite his concerns that the games would directly or indirectly spread the coronavirus, was also at the opening. He gave an unenthusiastic 14-second speech, in which he changed the word “celebrate” to “commemorate.”

Mori, too, was there for the opening, but not as chairman. He had been forced to resign on Feb. 12, after making sexist remarks. With him gone, the committee decided that Osaka was perfect.

Osaka wasn’t formally approached until March, but thankfully she took the job. She was a spark of light in an opening ceremony that was depressing as hell.

Naomi Osaka is not only a celebrated biracial athlete in an all too often xenophobic and sexist society but also an outspoken advocate of Black Lives Matter and a champion of mental health awareness. No matter how it happened, the choice to have her wield the rose-gold torch was laudable.

In the end, Matsui also took part in the opening ceremonies as a torchbearer.

The Daily Beast reached out to the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee and Yoshihiro Mori for comment, but have not received a reply. The Tokyo Olympics have been beset by scandal since Japan won the bid in 2013, and the infighting and squabbles surrounding the opening ceremony have been endless.

In the process, important messages that many in Japan hoped to see expressed were snuffed out.

The International Olympic Committee wasn’t interested in anything promoting the restoration of Fukushima, a northern prefecture of Japan devastated by natural disasters and a nuclear meltdown. An earlier plan to have a moment of silence for the victims of the disaster was nixed by the IOC, which had also canceled plans to have a moment of silence for Hiroshima on Aug. 6.

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The reconstruction and revival of the area was the original pretext for applying to host the Olympics in the first place. “The IOC didn’t give a fart about Fukushima,” the Tokyo Organizing Committee source added. So much for the “Restoration Olympics.

The IOC did, however, request John Lennon’s “Imagine be put in the show. If we imagine hard enough, we could also maybe believe that the president of the IOC, Thomas Bach, really cares more about the safety of the Japanese people than he does about the IOC collecting $1 billion in TV broadcasting rights fees.

And thanks to the decision to have Naomi Osaka take part in the ceremony, we can almost imagine that the scandal-plagued Tokyo Olympics were always actually about “diversity and unity.” Imagine that.

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