With the Olympic Committee focusing on environmental issues in the runup to the 2012 Olympics, one woman could not pass up the opportunity to highlight Japan's whaling policies ahead of their Tokyo 2020 bid.
When she first launched her campaign, Shona Lewendon of Glasgow, Scotland, never dreamed that the campaign would go viral. Since she started her petition on the 15th of January 2013, she has garnered over 343,000 signatures and attracted significant support from other conservation groups.
Lewendon's petition targets the International Olympic Committee (IOC) — currently considering bids for the 2020 Olympics. It has been narrowed down to three final host cities — Madrid, Istanbul and Tokyo. The IOC will award the bid in Buenos Aires on Sept. 7, this year.
The dolphin advocate is charging that because of its whaling policy in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and its dolphin hunts in Taiji, the country of Japan is not compliant with the IOC’s own Environmental Mandate. Lewendon explained that she believes Tokyo's bid violates the United Nations Environment Program’s Agenda 21, which the IOC addresses in their publication “Sustainability Through Sport: Implementing the Olympic Movement’s Agenda 21."
Campaign earns the backing of prominent conservation group
A little more than one month into her petition, Lewendon earned the support of the international group: Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC). WDC campaign manager, Courtney Vail, hailed Shona's efforts as "strategic" primarily because they were, "guided by the Olympic Charter itself."
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 [Japan Olympic Committee] 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.But strange things are afoot, claims Lewendon
Japan's JOC initially appeared to ignore Lewendon's efforts to best them. Now, the advocate told Digital Journal, there are signs that the Japanese government is showing an increased nervousness over how popular her campaign has become.
Shona directed Digital Journal to an article about her campaign [Japan on trial at The Hague] that was published in Around the Rings (ATR) on July 2, 2013. According to the Guardian newspaper, "Around The Rings has long been the most influential internet presence on the Olympics."
It was a coup for the dolphin advocate until the article suddenly disappeared. Even though links to it still show up in Google search, Lewendon explained, when a user clicks on the link, it returns a 'not found' error.
Ironically, shortly afterwards, the advocate said, a banner ad with Tokyo 2020 appeared at the top of ATR's website along with a new Sponsor Spotlight post, that covered "New Deals for Tokyo 2020."
"Suddenly it's crystal [clear]," she told DJ, and while it could all be a simple coincidence, Digital Journal has contacted Around the Rings for an explanation. We are currently awaiting their reply on where the article can now be located.
In the meantime, we spoke with Lewendon further about her Olympic Dolphins campaign and how far it has progressed since its inception.
EB: So what inspired this campaign? How did you come up with the idea of targeting Japan's Olympic bid?
SL: When I saw the announcement on TV on the 7th of January that Tokyo had made it to the final three, I remembered the stories that were reported about various environmental issues that were addressed by the Olympics in the run up to the London 2012 games. The whole of the UK was affected in one way or another. So I could not understand how Japan could continue with their hunts AND bid for the Olympics. I spent a lot of time on the Olympic website, reading about their Sport & Environment Commission.
It was very clear to me that: 1) a nation that hunts in an internationally recognized whale sanctuary; 2) brutally hunts small whales and dolphins, wiping out entire generations at a time; and 3) in doing so, damaging fragile ecosystems, the environment and wildlife -- is NOT compliant with the Olympics' environmental policies.
[Lewendon points to the JOC website, which states: "The JOC Sport and Environment Commission," was established, "for the sake of creating an environment conducive for sports at all times by promoting environmental awareness using posters and banners at sporting events and roping in Olympic players and teams to spread the message of environmental conservation."]
EB: Did you ever expect the campaign to become so big?
SL: I never intended to create a campaign. I have never done anything like this before, and would have never dreamed that I could! I fully expected one of the bigger NGO's or groups to campaign about this, but when I realized that they were not looking at this approach, I felt that I had no option but to do something myself. So, I started my petition, hoping to get 1000 signatures. Within 5 days, it had amassed 10,000 signatures!
EB: The campaign has received some criticism from other advocates, why?
SL: Some people consider the campaign to be racist. It is NOT racist; we are merely asking the IOC to do its job correctly and implement their own environmental policies -- as they would do for ANY nation bidding to host the Games.
A few people have decided that this campaign is a complete waste of time because the International Olympic Committee has replied to my emails basically saying that this issue is not within their remit (all correspondence is available on our website).
Looking at the Olympics' own stance on the environment, and the Japanese Olympic Committee's own Environmental Policies, I disagree -- they do have a responsibility to address a potential host nation that engages in these barbaric, unsustainable & globally condemned hunts.
Do we just accept that because the IOC said NO, the campaign is over? Of course we don't! The whole point of the campaign is to put public pressure on the IOC to do their job correctly and challenge Japan over this issue.
If every campaigner, protester, activist and organization accepted a negative response and went home quietly, there would be no point in anyone ever standing up for anything that they believe in -- and this world would be a much darker, hopeless place. What happened to 'Never be silent, never give up'?
EB: So, have you spoken to Japanese people about your campaign, and how did they feel about it?
SL: Yes I have; they support the campaign and do not see it as racist at all. They see it as it is intended to be: if a nation wants the honor of hosting the Olympic Games, that nation has to follow the rules like every other potential host nation. I have many, many signatures on my petition from people in Japan.
EB: Since you first initiated the campaign, how has it grown?
SL: The campaign and petition have grown bigger than I could ever have imagined. At one stage, someone, somewhere in the world, signed the petition every 4 seconds! I am very lucky to have a team of equally passionate, talented and dedicated people working with me, from all over the world. We have had 2 successful global demonstrations in over 50 locations, on every continent, within 4 months. The awareness that we have raised has been incredible.
So many new faces are now actively involved in bringing these hunts to an end. I hear stories time and time again from people who had no idea that whales and dolphins were being hunted, and more importantly, they had no idea about the connection between the hunts and captivity! This alone, is progress!
Lewendon's progress will not be welcomed by the Japanese government or the JOC, who are pushing hard and fast to win the 2020 Olympic bid for Tokyo. But for the anti-whaling advocate, the solution remains simple.
"If Japan wishes to be the world stage for the international community's finest athletes," she said, "surely they must also acknowledge and address the global condemnation of their continued unsustainable, cruel hunts. The IOC cannot ignore this any longer, they do have the ability to stop it."
As for supporting Tokyo's bid, Lewenden said she would wholeheartedly offer her support for their bid, once "Japan agrees to end these outdated barbaric whale and dolphin hunts, and complies with IOC rules."
Learn more about Lewendon's campaign at Olympic Dolphins.com and at Causes.com — Olympic Dolphins.