It’s been another week dominated by news stories related to the Olympics. Following last week’s petition calling for the Games to be canceled, protesters gathered outside the National Stadium to voice their displeasure at the upcoming event while the IOC remain adamant that it will go ahead as planned. High-profile athletes have also had their say on the subject, including Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori, and Rafael Nadal.
"The medical care system is about to collapse. We had over 1,000 new #covid19 infection cases in #Tokyo today. The state of emergency has been extended. How can we bring the #Olympics here under these circumstances?" https://t.co/0jlVVKOLGy #TokyoOlympics #Covid19 #coronavirus
— Dave Matthews (@thejurasout) May 11, 2021
Protests Outside the National Stadium
A track-and-field test event for the Tokyo Olympics took place at the National Stadium on Sunday. 420 athletes took part, including nine from overseas. Among them was 2004 Olympic champion Justin Gatlin. “I felt beyond safe,” he said. “I’ve been tested every day. I know a lot of athletes are not going to be happy with this, but there are measures to keep us safe. I think it’s working.” Outside the stadium, however, people weren’t feeling so positive about the Games. Around 100 protesters could be seen holding various signs including one that read, “Olympics Kill the Poor.” The protests came shortly after a petition was posted online calling for the Games to be canceled. It has so far received more than 300,000 signatures.
IOC Vice President Insists Nothing Can Stop the Olympics from Going Ahead
Despite growing opposition to the Olympics, IOC Vice President John Coates insists there’s no going back now. He was asked by AFP if there was a possibility the Games might be postponed again or canceled. “No, there’s not,” he replied. “The prime minister of Japan said to the president of the United States two or three weeks ago. He continues to say that to the IOC. We’re working with him on all of the safety measures. It’s going ahead,” continued Coates. IOC spokesperson Mark Adams reiterated the vice president’s stance at a news conference. He said they would listen to public opinion but won’t be guided by it. “Everything’s telling us the Games can go ahead and will go ahead,” added Adams.
Government Advisor Laughs off Calls for the Games to be Canceled
On the same day that the anti-Olympic protests took place, Kaetsu University professor Yoichi Takahashi sparked fury on Twitter by posting a controversial tweet that downplayed the pandemic and suggested that it would be laughable to cancel the Games. Implying the number of cases in Japan was just “a ripple,” he sarcastically asked, “You want to cancel the Olympics for this? lol.” A special advisor to the government, Takahashi is believed to be close to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. The two men reportedly met last week. Asked at a parliamentary committee meeting on Monday if he had anything to say about the former finance ministry bureaucrat’s tweet, Suga replied that he “would not comment on what Takahashi said in a personal capacity.”
Suga Claims to have “Never Put the Olympics First“
At the aforementioned parliamentary meeting Prime Minister Suga was grilled by opposition members about this summer’s Games. “I’ve never put the Olympics first,” he said. “My priority has been to protect the lives and health of the Japanese population. We must prevent the spread of the virus.” He reiterated that the final decision on whether the Games go ahead or not lies with the IOC. Yuki Edano, head of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, stated that “it would be impossible to protect the lives, health and livelihoods of the Japanese people while holding the Olympics and Paralympics.”
Japanese Athletes to be Vaccinated Prior to Tokyo Games
The Daily Yomiuri and Nikkei newspapers this week revealed that around 2,500 Japanese Olympic and Paralympic athletes as well as support staff would be offered vaccines before the Games get under way this summer. According to the articles the Japanese Sports Federation would be in charge of administrating the jabs. In April, Kyodo news agency claimed government officials had begun looking into the possibility of vaccinating all Japanese athletes by June. Following an outcry on social media, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato denied the report. According to data compiled by the University of Oxford, only 2.59 percent of the population had received at least one dose of the vaccine by May 9.
— ochreblue (@ochreblue) May 12, 2021
Athletes Conflicted Over the Games
Speaking to the BBC ahead of the Italian Open, Naomi Osaka said she was “not really sure,” if the Olympics should go ahead this summer. “I’m an athlete and of course my immediate thought is that I want to play in the Olympics. But as a human I would say we’re in a pandemic and if people aren’t healthy and if they’re not feeling safe, then it’s definitely a really big cause for concern.” Kei Nishikori is also feeling cautious. “You can make a good bubble and maybe you can do it,” he said. “There’s some risk too. What happens if there’s 100 cases in the (Olympic) village? Or it can be thousands.” Rafael Nadal’s another player unsure about what to do for the best. “In a normal world I would never think about missing the Olympics, of course,” he said. “Under these circumstances, I don’t know.”