A mom from Scotland has single-handedly sparked a worldwide campaign to prevent Tokyo from even being considered for hosting the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, unless Japan permanently bans the gruesome dolphin slaughter taking place each year in the infamous cove at Taiji.
What started as a simple idea in Shona Lewendon’s Glasgow living room has quickly mushroomed into a massive effort by 200,000 people around the world (and growing by the second) to petition the International Olympic Committee to remove Japan from consideration for the games until it outlaws the infamous dolphin drive.
"At no point do I condone boycotting Japan, nor do I incite hatred, violence or negativity towards Japanese citizens."
“I had what I call a light-bulb moment when I heard that Japan had made it to the final three candidates of the Olympics host city, again,” Lewendon told TakePart. “I did a bit of Googling and discovered they have bid for the Olympics many times since they last held the Summer Olympics in 1964. This is their third consecutive bid.”
The Japanese Olympic Committee appears to be “very eager to host the Olympics again, for both the honor and the economic boost the Games will bring,” Lewendon continued. “Olympians and the Olympics are highly respected in Japan, and I believe that if the IOC were to challenge this unsustainable hunt, the Japanese Government would have to listen and address the issue, if they are to be considered a modern, respectful nation, worthy of Host Nation status. How can they be the world stage to the games, when the world condemns the actions of a very small minority of people in Japan?”
It became clear to the mother of three that an opportunity presented itself “to use the Olympics as leverage to hopefully finally bring these outdated barbaric hunts to an end,” she said. “They are desperate to be host nation again—and we are desperate for them to end the hunt.”
If Tokyo were to win its bid for the games without the IOC taking a stance against the slaughter, Lewendon added, “The people who allow this to happen will see it as an endorsement of their actions, basically giving them permission to continue to hunt these cetaceans to extinction without challenge.”
Lewendon said she has known about whale and dolphin hunts since the mid 80s, and “I find it hard to believe that it still goes on—even after The Cove won an Oscar. I was sure it would stop then, yet here we are in 2013, and the numbers killed and captive are on the increase,” she said. “Like millions throughout the planet, I have watched time and time again as more dolphins are slaughtered or taken captive, all in the name of greed.”
Lewendon queried a few dolphin groups on Facebook to see if anyone else was going to challenge the Tokyo bid, but it didn’t go well.
“I either got laughed at, dismissed, ignored, or told that what I was suggesting was to boycott Japan, which will just have a negative impact and make matters worse for Cove Guardians,” she said. “But let me just clarify, I am not targeting Japanese citizens, in any way. I most certainly do not condone or advocate any form of boycott, hatred, violence or negativity towards Japanese people. But using the excuse of culture and tradition is no longer acceptable.”
Despite the discouragement, “I just knew this was a good chance to make real changes, and if no one else would do something, I had to do it myself,” Lewendon said, “Which is why I started the petition.”
The petition’s wording is simple: “We respectfully ask that you do NOT consider Japan’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic bid, until the Japanese Government agrees to end the brutal Taiji Dolphin Drive Hunt, by making it illegal to hunt Dolphins in Japan.”
It is aimed at two groups, Lewendon said. First are “the people in power in Japan, who issue the permits…they have the power to stop this, but choose not to.” The other group, of course, is the IOC.
“In the Olympic Charter it states in the Roles and Responsibilities of the IOC, point number 13, is ‘to encourage and support a responsible concern for environmental issues,” Lewendon explained. “Clearly, they have not addressed this issue before now, or the hunt would have ended.”
Lewendon posted her petition on Causes.com, along with a passionate plea for the dolphins.
“The manner in which they are killed (a spear to the spinal cord which takes up to 7 minutes to die in agony) is unspeakable and inhumane,” she wrote on the webpage. “The hunt continues, hidden under tarpaulins in an attempt to conceal the slaughter, they clearly know what they are doing is wrong. Many Japanese people are becoming aware & condemning it, but most are afraid to speak out.”
And, she added, “At no point do I condone boycotting Japan, nor do I incite hatred, violence or negativity towards Japanese citizens.”
The response has been nothing short of astonishing.
“It got 10,000 signatures in five days!” Lewendon marveled. “Due to this momentum, I decided to host a demonstration outside our local Japanese Consulate in Edinburgh,” on February 22, “in time to let the IOC know that they cannot ignore the Taiji Dolphin Drive Hunt when their Evaluation Commission visits Tokyo on 4th to 7th of March for their facilities inspection.”
As of midday Thursday, February 7, the petition had received nearly 200,000 signatures and been shared more than 300,000 times.
The campaign has also won the endorsement of Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC). “We are supportive of this approach,” said WDC Campaigns and Program Manager Courtney Vail. “It challenges the issue of international governance in that Japan refuses to comply with International Whaling Commission rulings, as well as allowing these domestic hunts to continue.” The IOC mandate for environmental responsibility “opens the door for Shona’s approach,” Vail added.
In fact, Lewendon’s idea is very similar to WDC’s engagement with the U.K. Olympic Committee, in which they secured a commitment to not source any fish served during the games that had any association with whaling, and more specifically, from the HB Grandi company, a fish supplier that has connections to whaling.
Meanwhile, many people told Lewendon they wanted to do something more than sign a petition. She came up with the additional idea of staging similar events to the one she is planning for Edinburgh, on February 22.
“I felt that if we had other events join us on the same day, saying the same message, our united voices would be louder and more likely to be heard,” she explained. “So I set up my Global Events page and started to recruit people who felt the same way, to host their own events. Within one week we are up to 27 events in 15 countries, and counting. I was astounded. Still am.”
It is the first time Lewendon has ever tried doing anything like this. “I am a single mother of 3 lively boys aged 3, 6 and 13. I’m juggling organizing this with school runs, my work, kids clubs, household duties, etcetera,” she said. “But I am amazed and humbled by the support I have and continue to receive from all over the world. I am now fortunate to have a great bunch of equally passionate people working with me, making sure that we all make this Olympic Challenge a success, and bring the Taiji hunt to an end forever.”
Lewendon hopes that more events will be organized in Asia, “so that we are not seen as a mainly Western assault on Japanese culture.” But she is happy with the progress so far.
“I even have an event in Orlando,” she said, “right outside SeaWorld,” which, of course, once sourcd its dolphins from the Taiji slaughter and to this day refuses to condemn the massacre that most of the world finds so repugnant.
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David Kirby, a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, has been a professional journalist for 25 years and was a contracted writer for The New York Times, where he covered health and science, among other topics. He has written for national magazines and was a correspondent in Mexico and Central America from 1986-1990. His third book, Death at SeaWorld, was published by St. Martin’s Press.