Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga yesterday said that he has never “put the Olympics first,” the same day an opinion poll showed that nearly 60 percent of people in Japan want the Olympics canceled less than three months before they begin.
Japan has extended a state of emergency in Tokyo until the end of the month and is struggling to contain a surge in COVID-19 cases, raising further questions about whether the Games should go on. Its vaccination rate is the lowest among wealthy nations.
International Olympic officials, Tokyo planners and Suga have insisted that the Games would go on in “a safe and secure” way. Foreign spectators have been barred and planners issued an elaborate playbook of rules last month aimed at preventing coronavirus infections.
A public opinion survey, conducted from Friday last week to Sunday by the Yomiuri Shimbun daily, showed that 59 percent wanted the Games canceled as opposed to 39 percent who said they should be held. “Postponement” was not offered as an option.
Another poll conducted at the weekend by TBS News found that 65 percent wanted the Games canceled or postponed again, with 37 percent voting to scrap the event altogether and 28 percent calling for another delay. More than 300,000 people have signed a petition to cancel the Games in the five days since it was launched.
Asked in a parliamentary committee meeting whether the Games would continue even if COVID-19 infections spike, Suga said: “I’ve never put Olympics first.”
“My priority has been to protect the lives and health of the Japanese population. We must first prevent the spread of the virus,” he added.
He repeated that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has the final say on the fate of the Games and that the government’s role is to take steps so they can be held safely. Several test events with foreign athletes have been successfully held, most recently on Sunday.
Arrangements are being made for IOC president Thomas Bach, who had been widely expected to visit Japan this month, to visit next month, with the lifting the state of emergency a prerequisite, media reports said.
Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee president Seiko Hashimoto last week said that it would be “difficult” for Bach to visit in the middle of a state of emergency.
An official in western Okayama Prefecture yesterday said they were considering keeping the Olympic torch relay off public roads when it passes through next week. Although other prefectures have taken similar steps, they were under states of emergency or other restrictions at the time.
IOC vice president John Coates on Saturday said that although Japanese sentiment about the Games “was a concern” he could foresee no scenario under which the sporting extravaganza would not go ahead.
On Sunday, Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka said that even though she has waited her whole life to participate in the Olympics, the risks of holding the Tokyo Games should be carefully discussed.
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