If John Coates was trying to provoke controversy, he succeeded.
A vice-president of the International Olympic Committee, Coates, was asked a few days ago by a Japanese reporter at an online press conference whether the Tokyo Olympics would continue, even if a state of emergency was in place in Japan.
Coates replied, “Absolutely, yes.”
Coates said what the IOC and local organizers have been trying to convince the Japanese public for months: The postponed Olympics with 11,000 athletes from 200 countries and territories will open on July 23 and be “safe and secure.”
But his provocative tone has provoked a backlash in Japan, where 60-80% of polls say they do not want the Olympics to open in two months in the midst of a pandemic.
Just over 12,000 deaths in Japan – good by world standards but poor in Asia – are attributed to COVID-19. But Tokyo and Osaka and several other areas are in a state of emergency until May 31 and will likely be extended.
There is a fear of spreading new variants with only a small percentage of Japanese vaccinated. Estimates range between 2% and 4%.
“Currently, more than 80% of people in the country want the Olympics postponed or canceled,” Japanese billionaire businessman Masayoshi Son said over the weekend. He is the founder and CEO of SoftBank Group Corp. He also owns the SoftBank Hawks baseball team.
“Who is forcing this to continue and under what rights?” Son added.
Technically, the Games belong to the International Olympic Committee and only it has the power to cancel. Of course, each move must be agreed with the Japanese organizers.
There is no assumption that this will happen.
Social media has criticized Coates and also persecuted IOC President Thomas Bach, who has repeatedly said that everyone must “sacrifice” to withdraw these Olympics, which have already banned fans from abroad. A decision on the presence of local fans – if any – will be made next month.
The IOC relies on the sale of television rights for 75% of its revenue, and Japan has officially spent $ 15.4 billion to prepare for the games. State audits show that the figure is much higher. All but $ 6.7 billion is public money.
Shukan Post magazine said in its latest issue that organizers had booked all rooms during the Olympics in at least four of Tokyo’s most expensive hotels. The magazine called the premises “appropriate or royal” for the IOC and others.
Tokyo Organizing Committee Chairman Seiko Hashimoto said on Friday that “the Olympic family, the IOC and international federations” will have 23,000 visitors.
The magazine says the IOC will pay up to $ 400 a night for rooms, with local organizers making the difference.
Many Japanese newspapers are among more than 60 local sponsors of the Olympics, which have contributed more than $ 3 billion to local organizers. They are restrained in their criticism, although one of them – Hokkaido
Shimbun – called for unspecified actions by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Suga said the IOC is the one to determine the fate of the Olympics.
“Inaction itself takes away responsibility for people’s lives and health. Those responsible must take this to heart. “
Shinano Mainichi Shimbun, who is not a sponsor, called for the cancellation in an editorial on Sunday.
“We are not in the mood to celebrate an event filled with fear and anxiety,” the newspaper said. “The Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo must be canceled … The government must decide to protect people’s lives and livelihoods.” Organizers and the IOC say the games will be safe due to extensive testing and building a bubble around the athletes. It says more than 80% of the inhabitants of the Olympic Village in Tokyo Bay will be vaccinated.
The comments of Atsuko Saitoh, who describes herself as a midwife and former university professor, are representative of the criticism on social media. She ran unsuccessfully for the upper house of Japan and ran in the next election in the lower house.
“Bach and Coates do not value the lives of athletes, other participants or people from the host nation. It is tantamount to predicting terrorism to say that the games will be held in emergency situations, despite the huge opposition in public opinion. “