TOKYO (AP) – Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a state of emergency in and around Tokyo last week over an upturn in the coronavirus, but vowed that the mid-year Olympics would take place and be “safe.”
The opposition to the fair, however, is increasing and many are calling for its final cancellation. The International Olympic Committee and local organizers have said that another postponement is impossible, so the only options are to carry them out from July 23, as scheduled, or to cancel them permanently.
Two recent polls by the Kyodo agency and the TBS channel indicate that 80% of the Japanese public opinion wants the fair to be postponed again or canceled, or thinks that it will not take place. This represents an increase of 15% to 20% from last month.
“The Japanese are increasingly inclined to oppose the Games this summer and the state of emergency reinforces the impression that they are a lost cause,” Koichi Nakano, who teaches politics at Tokyo’s Sofia University, said in an email sent to The Associated Press.
There are many factors at play: Olympic finance, geopolitics, and appearances.
Japanese taxpayers have invested billions of dollars in games, the IOC lives off television rights and its coffers have been hit hard by last year’s postponement. China, for its part, is set to host the Winter Games in Beijing in 13 months and would gain a political payoff if Japan cannot hold the summer games.
“Japan’s prestige in Asia and in the world is important, especially because of its rivalry with China,” Nakano said. “It would be a nightmare for them (the Japanese) if they can’t put on the first post-COVID games and China does.”
Nakano claimed that the government wanted to avoid having to declare a state of emergency, but ultimately it should have.
The organizers promised to take strict measures against the virus. This means ensuring the safety of 15,400 Olympians and Paralympians, as well as the Japanese in general. There will also be tens of thousands of judges, technicians and officials, sponsors, volunteers and journalists. And maybe hundreds of thousands of fans, if the fair is admitted to the public.
Japan is trying to justify the at least $ 25 billion invested, satisfy domestic backers who contributed $ 3.5 billion, and win the geopolitical battle with China.
The Swiss-based IOC, for its part, is trying to stabilize its finances. 73% of its income comes from the sale of television broadcasting rights. 18% of sponsors.
Dr Atsuo Hamada, an infectious disease specialist at Tokyo University Hospital, said the Games can bring “pride and a legacy”, and perhaps short-term financial benefits, but they can also bring COVID-19.
“The Games could increase the risks of infections,” he said in an interview with the AP.
Hamada says the state of emergency changed everything. He believes that most Japanese are not going to start getting vaccinated before May.
He added that the “bubble method,” such as the one used by the NBA in Florida, seemed viable, but that the Olympians would require numerous bubbles in the middle of a metropolitan area of 35 million people.
“The state of emergency changed things,” he said. “Running the Games seems somewhat more difficult today than it did last year.”
Japan, a country of 126 million people, contained the coronavirus better than most nations and recorded only about 4,000 deaths associated with COVID-19.
Influential IOC leader Richard Pound said last week that “the most realistic possibility of making the Olympics happen” would be to make athletes a priority for vaccines.
Shortly before, Bach had said that athletes should not be a priority.
Tokyo appeared as a breath of fresh air for an Olympic movement shocked by scandals at the Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and in Sochi in 2014. However, it was also involved in scandals, which forced the resignation of the president of the Olympic Committee. from Japan Tsunekazu Takeda.
To make matters worse, the state of human rights worsened in China after it secured the host of the 2008 Games and now the 2022 winter joust comes at a time when at least a million Uighur Muslims are interned in concentration camps and forced to do forced labor in the northwest of the country.
“I suspect that China is going to present the Winter Games as an example of how to combat the pandemic and leadership in the field of health,” Sheena Greitens, a professor of Asian politics at the University of Texas, said in an email.
John Horne, co-author of the book “Understanding the Olympics” and professor of sports sociology at Waseda University in Tokyo, believes that cancellation is a real possibility.
“Nobody wants it, but there are a number of problems bringing the world together right now, starting with the transmission of the virus,” he told AP.