Faster, higher, stronger

Lawyers in Japan could be in for a big boost after the country won the race to host the 2020 Olympics

The enthusiasm of the winning delegation to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Buenos Aires on 7 September was drowned out in early Sunday morning Tokyo, where crowds celebrated the announcement they would host the 2020 Olympics. This was a rare moment of celebration for a country that has recently been plagued by natural disasters and a perception that its once revered economic strength is fading.

Japan has obviously impressed the world with its resilience. So confident was the IOC that, despite fears of radioactive leaks and prime minister Shinzo Abe’s risky pledge to increase the consumption tax in 2014, Tokyo triumphed over Istanbul and third-time-unlucky Madrid. Perhaps this is proof of Abe’s slogan ‘Japan is Back’. 

Many are keen to see what the Olympics will mean for devastated Tohoku, but a more relevant question is what effect the Olympics will have on the legal industry in Japan.

Such effects can be described as direct – Olympics-related briefs – or indirect – a stronger economy. As to the latter, there are signs that the Olympics will be a stimulus. For example, Bloomberg reckons the Olympics will result in JPY651bn (£4bn) for the services industry, JPY475bn for the construction industry and JPY152bn for the property sector. That these windfalls will mean busier legal practices in Japan is plain. However, not all firms will be celebrating, including those that rely on international M&A, which may suffer if the Nikkei climbs too high and discourages already dwindling foreign investment.

As to direct impacts, the legal industry will be heavily involved in running the responsible authorities and protecting some of the world’s most valuable IP rights. But in the short term firms would be wise to focus on assisting in the building of venues and infrastructure.

In this connection it is worth highlighting some key features of the
Tokyo bid. First, most venues will be in the city centre, with around 90 per cent being close to the Olympic Village. Second, Tokyo is already serviced by peerless public and private transport networks. Third, a number of venues will be on sites used in the 1964 Olympics. This means there will be relatively little construction and therefore fewer planning and project finance briefs.

Even so, there are a few landmark projects, chief amongst which are the Olympic Village – Tokyo’s biggest housing project in 42 years, which will be financed by multiple developers – and the reconstruction of the national stadium, built for the 1964 games.

The news of 7 September was met with glee in Japan. It acknowledges that it can be relied upon to host the world’s largest sporting and cultural event. The Japanese legal industry must also be jubilant. Not only is there the prospect of a stronger economy, there are also landmark projects for which there will be plenty of work in the short term, not to mention the governance, sponsorship, employment and other work that will arise closer to 2020.