Green-Sports Greenwashing

Activist Groups Ask if Tokyo 2020 Is Walking Green-Sports Walk as Local Sponsors Fund New Coal Plants


The organizers of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games are signatories of the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework. Among other things, they committed to reduce the Games’ overall climate impact, promote sustainable and responsible consumption, and advocate for climate action in public communications. 

How does Tokyo 2020 square those commitments with the funding of new coal-fired power plants by some of its local gold level sponsors and the Japanese government?

Activist groups like Oil Change International are protesting this apparent hypocrisy and are pushing the relevant Olympic sponsors and hosts to do their part for the climate.      


“Did you know that Japan is the only G7 country still building coal-fired power plants?”

So asked Susanne Wong, campaigner for Oil Change International (OCI), a research, communications, and advocacy organization focused on exposing the true costs of fossil fuels and facilitating the ongoing transition to clean energy.


Susanne Wong (Photo credit: Susanne Wong)


I did not.



I also did not know that Mizuho, SMBC and Tokio Marine — all gold level      sponsors of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games — are helping to finance and insure those air-polluting, greenhouse gas (GHG)-spewing power plants.

“Four coal-fired power plants will go online in Japan in 2020, with another slated for construction just an hour’s train ride from the Olympic Stadium,” noted Wong. “It doesn’t make sense that these companies are supporting new coal plants while the rest of the developed world is going in the opposite direction. By doubling down on coal, these companies are taking on toxic assets and exposing themselves to significant reputational and financial risk. Despite this, Mizuho, SMBC and Tokio Marine are sticking with this dirty, risky technology.”

Per Wong, the Japanese government, together with Mizuho, SMBC and others, has also provided billions in loans for coal-fired plants in Bangladesh and Vietnam so far this year.


Van Phong Bay in Vietnam, site of a future coal-fired power plant. The Japanese government approved a $1.2 billion loan in April to fund the project. It will lock in decades of new carbon emissions and lead to an estimated 2,970 premature deaths due to air pollution (Photo credit: Market Forces)


That is why groups from around the world, including OCI, Kiko Network and, joined together to form the No Coal Japan coalition. This coalition includes dozens of civil society groups that are working together to pressure the sponsors and the Japanese government to stop financing coal-fired power projects.

Focusing their protests on the Tokyo Olympics is a natural next step for the coalition partners.

“Japan’s support for coal flies in the face of the Paris Agreement, which Japan signed, and undermines global efforts to address the climate crisis,” offered Wong. “Tokyo 2020 and the IOC have made public commitments on climate and both signed the UN’s Sports for Climate Action framework. But that’s not enough. We’re in a climate emergency and we need these institutions to use their influence to encourage the Olympic sponsors to address the root cause of the climate crisis: continued fossil fuel development.”

Close to 30 organizations from around the world recently released a letter to IOC President Thomas Bach recommending that he use his platform to encourage Olympic host cities and governments, including Japan, to take urgent action to address the climate crisis. They also urged the IOC to consider actions candidate city and national governments have taken — or not taken — to address the climate crisis when selecting cities to host future Olympic and Paralympic Games and to work with national Olympic Committees to only approve corporate sponsors which have taken aggressive climate action.

“Selecting host cities and sponsors which are exacerbating the climate crisis undermines the credibility of the IOC’s stated commitment to sustainability,” the groups wrote. “In the case of Japan, we need the IOC to urge Tokyo 2020 and leaders of Mizuho, SMBC and Tokio Marine to use their prominent roles as hosts and sponsors to take meaningful action on climate and their support for coal.”



Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe endorsed the Paris Climate Agreement and says he supports climate action. He talks the climate talk.

But does Abe and his government walk the climate walk?

“Government and bank policies on coal are full of loopholes that have allowed them to carry on with business as usual,” asserted Wong.

Opposition to the coal investments is growing in Japan but time is not on the campaigners’ side: The opening ceremonies are only ten months away and, per the IPCC, the climate crisis clock is just as daunting: Humanity has 11 years or less to decarbonize by 45 percent to avoid the most cataclysmic effects of climate change.

OCI and partners are, of course, well aware of the metaphorical climate catastrophe “two minute warning.” They are pursuing a four-pronged approach to add time to the clock.

  1. Engage athletes and influencers to speak out against Japan’s continued coal finance
  2. Mobilize against Mizuho’s, SMBC’s and Tokio Marine’s coal investments through email actions, digital targeting and in-person protests.
  3. Organize actions when Japanese government and Olympic sponsors travel overseas, including September 23rd when the UN Secretary General convenes the Climate Action Summit in New York City.
  4. Increase pressure on the IOC to use its platform to encourage host cities and governments to stop fueling the climate crisis and to encourage sponsors to end their coal support.


Activists with No Coal Japan organized a protest featuring an inflatable Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emerging from a bucket of coal in Kobe (Photo credit: No Coal Japan)


Per Wong, “We want the IOC to address the hypocrisy of promoting a sustainable Tokyo Olympics while four coal plants are coming online in the Olympic year and the Japan government is investing billions to build new coal plants overseas,” She hopes these actions will provide a needed spark for the coalition to gain much-needed athlete support behind the Say No To Coal campaign.

That won’t be easy. Aside from basketball, women’s soccer, tennis players and some über high profile swimmers or track stars, most Olympians are on the world stage only once every four years. For many, Tokyo 2020 will be their only shot for gold (or silver or bronze). Will they want to risk becoming Colin Kaepernicks (i.e. blackballed or banned) because of coal?

On the other hand, athletes become Olympians by persevering in the face of opposition.

And one more thing.

It is the “Pro Coal” position that is increasingly controversial and the Say No to Coal stance that is becoming mainstream.

Watch this space to see which athletes support this important campaign.


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