Polls over the last several months show Japanese — and Japanese companies — are divided about holding the Games, or doubtful they should be held at all.
“Unfortunately, 80% of the Japanese don’t believe that the Tokyo Olympics can take place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Uchimura said after a one-day exhibition gymnastics meet last weekend. “I would like people to change their minds from: We can’t hold the Olympics to — how can we do it?” Postponed 7 1/2 months ago, the Olympics have been rescheduled to open on July 23, 2021. Despite the public’s ambivalence, the International Olympic Committee and Japanese organisers have unwavering support from Japan’s ruling party and Tokyo’s municipal government. The messaging is molded around the Games overcoming the odds — a heroic endeavour by Japan to lift global spirits, thanks to the Olympics.
Should Japan fail, Asian rival China would take the stage six months later with Beijing’s Winter Olympics opening Feb. 4, 2022. But there is a tiny murmur of resistance to the Olympic behemoth, particularly as the virus spikes around the world.
There are fears of letting 15,400 Olympic and Paralympic athletes enter Japan, joined by tens of thousand of officials, coaches, VIPs and media; not to mention the possibility of allowing foreign fans to attend.
“We should be talking about whether the Games are something we should forge ahead with in this way,” Genki Sudo, a national legislator, said. Sudo, a former mixed martial artist, wrestler and kickboxer, argues the Olympics won’t be fair to the athletes. Some can practice, but many can’t because of the pandemic. He even half-jokingly suggested the Games should be held remotely, like a Zoom meeting.
“If the training environment is so different, is that fair? It’s absolutely not fair,” Sudo said at his Parliamentary Upper House office adorned with pull-up bars. About 57% of the qualification spots for Tokyo have been filled. Matt Smith, the head of World Rowing, said a few days ago that completing the qualification was “really getting urgent.”
Tomoko Tamura, a lawmaker with the opposition Japanese Communist Party, wants to have the Olympics but said a safe vaccine may not come in time. Organisers say they can hold the Games, vaccine or no vaccine.
Some have suggested that healthy athletes should not be a priority for any vaccine. Can athletes refuse a vaccine and still compete? What if the vaccine makes an athlete ill days before the event? Japan has kept infections in check with fewer than 2,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19, though it’s undergoing a mild spike. Incoming travel has been mostly halted, but it’s sure to change for Olympic athletes and staff.
IOC President Thomas Bach is to meet next week in Japan with new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori, and probably any local sponsor that needs convincing the Olympics can still deliver. Local sponsors have chipped in $3.3 billion to fund the Games, at least twice a much as any previous Olympics, driven by the Japanese advertising company Dentsu Inc.
Organisers say they are officially spending $12.6 bn to stage the Games. However, a government audit last year said the amount was likely twice that large. All but $5.6 billion is public money. The IOC generated 73% of its income of $5.7 billion over the latest four-year Olympic cycle from selling broadcast rights.