Tokyo cornered into going ahead with Games – Olympic official

‘We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t’ says former judo world champion

 A giant Olympic rings monument  at Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo. About 90,000 athletes, officials, journalists, sponsors and support staff are expected to descend  on the city in  July. Photograph: Franck Robichon/EPA

A giant Olympic rings monument at Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo. About 90,000 athletes, officials, journalists, sponsors and support staff are expected to descend on the city in July. Photograph: Franck Robichon/EPA

 

A senior Japanese Olympic official has criticised the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for ignoring public concerns over holding the Tokyo 2020 Games during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the strongest objections from inside the Olympic movement so far, Kaori Yamaguchi, an executive member of the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC), said Tokyo had been “cornered” into going ahead with the Games despite widespread public opposition, and warned they would leave a “bitter taste”.

“We have been cornered into a situation where we cannot even stop now,” Yamaguchi wrote in an editorial published by the Kyodo news agency on Friday. “We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.”

The former judo world champion, who won a bronze medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, added: “What will these Olympics be for, and for whom? The Games have already lost meaning and are being held just for the sake of it. I believe we have already missed the opportunity to cancel.”

She accused the IOC of ignoring legitimate concerns about safety.

“The IOC seems to think that public opinion in Japan is not important,” she wrote.

Senior IOC officials and Tokyo 2020 organisers say the Games will open as planned on July 23rd, and insist that every precaution has been taken to protect athletes, visitors and the Japanese public.

John Coates, an IOC vice-president who is overseeing preparations, said recently that the Olympics would be held even if Tokyo was still subject to strict Covid-19 measures, while Dick Pound, the organisation’s longest-serving member, said the Games would go ahead “barring Armageddon”.

Yamaguchi, a professor at Tsukuba University, said the IOC “appeared to think it could steamroll over the wishes of the Japanese public, who, surveys show, overwhelmingly want the Games cancelled or postponed”.

Recent opinion polls have put opposition to holding the Games this summer at between 60% and 80%.

Tokyo and nine other areas are under a state of emergency that is not due to end until June 20th, just over a month before the opening ceremony.

While cases have fallen in Tokyo since the emergency declaration was made in late April, experts have said they remain stubbornly high owing to the spread of more contagious variants and signs of “lockdown fatigue”.

Medical adviser

In another blow to organisers, Japan’s most senior medical adviser has warned that an increase in people’s movements during the Olympics risks triggering a fresh Covid-19 outbreak. Fans from overseas have already been banned and a decision on local spectators is expected later this month.

“People have had enough of the ‘stay home’ request,” Shigeru Omi, who leads a panel advising the government on its pandemic response, told a parliamentary committee on Friday.

“Unless [the government] comes up with something new in this critical phase, it’s going to be impossible” to prevent the risk of infection.

He added: “It is crucial that we must not let the Olympics trigger a flow of people.”

Even without foreign spectators, about 90,000 athletes, officials, journalists, sponsors and support staff are expected to descend on Tokyo in July.

Omi, a former World Health Organization regional director, has not called for Tokyo 2020 to be cancelled, but this week he said holding the event under current coronavirus conditions in Japan was “not normal”.

He criticised the IOC for failing to engage with Japanese experts over public health guidance.

“We are now considering where we should give our advice. If they want to hold the Games, it’s our job to tell them what the risks are,” Omi told MPs, adding that medical experts were planning to issue a statement on the Olympics by June 20th, when the state of emergency is due to end.

Japan’s government has said the Games can go ahead safely despite the country’s slow start to its vaccine rollout and intense pressure on medical services.

Japan has reported about 750,000 cases since the start of the pandemic and more than 13,000 deaths, one of the worst records among countries in Asia.

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