Half Japan thinks Olympics will go ahead, poll shows, despite opposition

Olympic Rings monument outside the Japan Olympic Committee (JOC) headquarters in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: Visitors try to take photos in front of the Olympic Rings monument outside the Japan Olympic Committee (JOC) headquarters near the National Stadium, the main stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games that have been postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan May 30, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato

June 8, 2021

By Makiko Yamazaki and Antoni Slodkowski

TOKYO (Reuters) – Half of the Japanese public think the 2020 Olympics will take place this summer, a survey by the Yomiuri daily newspaper showed on Monday, despite most people opposing holding the Games during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Olympics have already been postponed by a year amid concerns over how organisers can keep volunteers, athletes, officials and the Japanese public safe when they begin on July 23 after a fourth wave of infections.

Opposition lawmakers grilled Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and cabinet ministers in parliament on Monday over the decision to press ahead with the event after several polls showed the public was not in favour.

Top government officials repeatedly said that the government would continue to work on coronavirus measures for a “safe and secure” Games, and that a decision on domestic spectators would be made this month.

“Taking infection control measures for athletes and Games officials so athletes from the world can safely participate and to protect our people’s lives and health, I think that is the premise of holding (the Olympics),” Suga told lawmakers.

In a Yomiuri survey conducted from June 4-6, 50% of respondents said the Games would happen this summer; 26% said they would take place without spectators. Some 48% said the event would be cancelled.

But most of the respondents in the same poll said virus measures for athletes and participants were inadequate, while public support for the Suga administration hit its lowest level, at 37%.

Foreign spectators are already prohibited from the Olympics and Japanese may also be kept away from what organisers promise will be a sanitised “bubble” event to minimise contagion risk.

HEALTH MORE IMPORTANT THAN EXCITEMENT

Local authorities have scaled down Olympic torch relay events and host towns for Olympic athletes changed their minds.

Saitama prefecture decided to cancel its plan to install two public viewing sites, Saitama governor Motohiro Ono said on Monday. Ono said prevention of infection was more important than excitement.

Japanese Olympic Committee board member Kaori Yamaguchi, a judo bronze medallist at the 1988 Seoul Games, added to rancour around Japan when she said on Friday her nation had been “cornered” into pressing ahead with the Games and accused the JOC of riding roughshod over public opinion.

“What will these Olympics be for and for whom? The Games have already lost meaning and are being held just for the sake of them. I believe we have already missed the opportunity to cancel,” she wrote in an opinion piece for Kyodo news agency.

About 3,500 out of over 40,000 “city volunteers” recruited by regional governments for the Olympics have pulled out, NHK reported. That adds to 10,000 volunteers who had already withdrawn, according to the organisers.

One of the top trending topics on Twitter in Japan on Monday was news of Tokyo police investigating a death on the city’s subway, which media reports said involved a senior official at the JOC.

Private broadcaster Nippon Television, citing metropolitan police sources, identified the person as someone who worked in the JOC’s accounting department and said his death was being treated as a suspected suicide.

The police said they were investigating, but did not elaborate. A JOC representative said the committee was collecting information, but did not give details.

(Reporting by Makiko Yamazaki, Antoni Slodkowski, Chang-Ran Kim, Elaine Lies and Kiyoshi Takenaka; writing by Ju-min Park; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Nick Macfie)