Never underestimate the efforts of a single individual, or a small group of committed individuals, especially in this day and age of electronic media. Shona Lewendon’s recent efforts to mobilize the international community to press the issue of the dolphin slaughters in Japan as Tokyo seeks a bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics have been met with a crescendo of international support. Labeled the Global Taiji Action Day, or Olympic Challenge, Shona’s enthusiasm and networking efforts have spawned over 42 local and coordinated demonstrations to occur on February 22nd in more than 21 countries. Currently, Shona’s petition to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has received over 250,000 signatures and continues to grow. WDC support’s Shona’s approach in encouraging the IOC to consider the brutal dolphin drive hunts in its forthcoming meetings to discuss Tokyo’s bid for the Olympic games, and believes this form of political leveraging is critical to raise this issue with the highest levels of international diplomacy.
And this approach is not only strategic from an international relations perspective, but is guided by the Olympic Charter itself. The guiding and binding principles of the official Olympic Charter and bylaws, meant to govern not only the International Olympic Committee (IOC), but also the national Olympic Committees (such as the Japan Olympic Committee-JOC), govern the organization, action and operation of the Olympic Movement and sets forth the conditions for the celebration of the Olympic Games. It is the constitution for the IOC and other Olympic committees. Within this charter is specific language relating to the IOC’s roles and responsibility regarding the environment, mandating the IOC to “encourage and support a responsible concern for environmental issues.” In this regard, the IOC and JOC are obligated to address this very significant environmental issue of the dolphin drive and other hunts that occur around Japan’s coastline and that have become the focus of international concern and local conflict on the ground in Taiji, just 160 miles from Tokyo.
As a candidate city for the 2020 summer games, Tokyo should be prepared to address the international concern surrounding the annual dolphin hunts that occur in its waters, where up to 20,000 small whales and dolphins are permitted to be slaughtered each year through a variety of methods. Decades-long condemnation of the dolphin drive hunts that occur primarily in Taiji in Wakayama Prefecture has undergone a resurgence of interest as the issue moved to the big screen with the release of the Academy-award winning documentary, The Cove, in 2009. WDC has been involved in actively opposing the dolphin drive hunts for nearly two decades and has been working on a number of levels to nurture lasting change within the hearts and minds of those within Japan and elsewhere that are opposed to the hunts.
More importantly, as symbolized by the Olympic Games themselves, cooperation and collaboration in addressing controversy on the international stage is necessary and possible. With continuing strife, stalemate, and growing tensions on the ground in Taiji, international activists continue to affirm their commitment to bearing witness to these brutal hunts through their occupation of this coastal village. At the same time, the central Government of Japan continues to ignore the growing international debacle at its doorstep through its persistent flouting of not only international conventions and global environmental treaties addressing its whaling activities, but its spurning of world opinion in an attempt to maintain its political leveraging over matters involving the utilization of global fisheries and other natural resources. As the Government of Japan continues to cling to an outdated practice that most of the civilized world, and most likely a majority of its citizenry, finds appalling and that brings unnecessary shame to an entire country, the need for international diplomacy is ever-present, providing the Olympic Committee with an opportunity to engage in peaceful and balanced dialogue on this issue.
WDC took a similar tack in leveraging the power and influence of the Olympic Committee by engaging with the UK Olympic Committee regarding any potential sourcing of Icelandic fish products from the HB Grandi company (or its UK distributors) as this company has proven links to whaling in Iceland. Through our constructive dialogue with the organizing Committee, and their mandate to comply with the spirit and intent of the Charter regarding environmental responsibility, the London 2012 committee agreed to conduct an internal audit of their fish supplies for the Games (all fish intended for athletes, staff or the public). This audit confirmed that the Games were indeed ‘Grandi-free’ and therefore clear of links to Icelandic whaling.
If Japan wishes to be seen as a responsible global leader, and a welcomed host for an event such as the Olympics, then it must look closer to home and end this archaic practice. Shona’s efforts help to highlight the conflict that the Japanese Government faces in trying to divorce itself from the brutality of the dolphin hunts and its industrial whaling policy while projecting its global credentials as a potential host. This approach challenges the issue of global governance and the IOC’s mandate for environmental responsibility opens the door.