The International Olympic Committee’s insistence that “sacrifices” must be made to ensure the Games go ahead in Tokyo regardless of the coronavirus situation in Japan has sparked a backlash and more calls for them to be cancelled.
John Coates, an IOC vice president, drew criticism in Japan after saying the Games would proceed even if the host city was still under a state of emergency due to the coronavirus. “The answer is absolutely yes,” Coates, who is overseeing preparations, said when asked on Friday if he thought they could be delivered despite the restrictions.
Social media users accused Coates and the IOC president, Thomas Bach, of ignoring the Japanese public sentiment, which is overwhelmingly opposed to holding the Games this year.
“Thomas Bach and John Coates are neck and neck in the race for the most hated pariah here. I predict a dead heat,” said a Japanese Twitter user.
On Saturday, Bach, who has been criticised for referring to the “resilience” of the Japanese people, told a meeting of the International Hockey Federation: “The athletes definitely can make their Olympic dreams come true. We have to make some sacrifices to make this possible.”
While it was not clear to whom Bach was referring when he called for sacrifices to be made, many assumed he had the Japanese public in mind.
“Does he say that the safety, health, and life of the Japanese should be sacrificed for the Olympics?” said one Twitter user. Another asked: “Why do people in Japan have to make a sacrifice for Olympics during a worldwide pandemic? It is definitely not acceptable.
Masayoshi Son, the chief executive of the SoftBank Group, said “vaccine laggard” Japan could pay a much higher price if the Games go ahead, in comments critical of apparent inability of the Japanese government to push the IOC to call off the Games without incurring huge financial penalties.
“Currently more than 80% of people want the Olympics to be postponed or cancelled. Who and on what authority is it being forced through?” the telecoms billionaire wrote in a Twitter post.
“There’s talk about a huge penalty (if the Games are cancelled). But if 100,000 people from 200 countries descend on vaccine-laggard Japan and the mutant variant spreads, lives could be lost, subsidies could result if a state of emergency is called, and gross domestic product could fall. If we consider what the public has to endure, I think we could have a lot more to lose.”
Japanese media carried reports of the “royal” status Bach and other senior IOC and sports officials would enjoy during their time in Japan. The Shukan Post, a weekly magazine, said organiser had block-booked rooms in at least four of Tokyo’s most expensive hotels, with the IOC footing only a fraction of the bill.
While most national newspapers, which have invested in Tokyo 2020 as official sponsors, have been reticent about the Olympics, local newspapers were more outspoken.
The Hokkaido Shimbun, also a sponsor, accused the prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, of “forfeiting his responsibility for people’s lives and health”, while the Shinano Mainichi Shimbun said the Games should be cancelled.
“We are in no mood to celebrate an event filled with fear and anxiety,” the newspaper said. “The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics should be canceled … the government must make the decision to protect the lives and livelihood of the people.”
Japan has reported just over 12,000 deaths from Covid-19 – a comparatively poor record among Asian countries – and Tokyo, Osaka and eight other areas are under a state of emergency that could be extended a second time into June, as the country struggles to relieve pressure on hospital beds and demoralised health workers.
A recent poll by a national hospital workers’ union found that more than half of nurses working in Japanese coronavirus wards had considered leaving the profession, with many citing stress, fatigue and fear of infection.
Growing concern that the arrival of just under 80,000 Olympic officials, journalists and support staff could trigger a fresh wave of Covid-19 cases comes as Japan attempts to speed up its troubled vaccination programme.
On Monday, two mass inoculation centres run by the self-defence forces opened in Tokyo and Osaka, days after Suga pledged to have 36m people aged aged 65 and over fully vaccinated by the end of July.
Only around 2% of Japan’s 126m people have been fully vaccinated since the rollout began in mid-February, including 174,000 older people.
With Associated Press