One of Japan’s largest newspapers, which also happens to be a sponsor of the Tokyo Olympics, has now added its voice to the growing chorus of opposition for holding the summer games this year.
The Asahi Shimbun newspaper, which is listed as an official partner of the games on the Tokyo 2020 website, published an editorial Wednesday imploring Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to call off the event, which is set to kick off in July.
“It is simply beyond reason to hold the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics this summer,” the editorial states. “We demand that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga evaluate the situation calmly and objectively, and decide against holding the Olympics and Paralympics this summer.”
The newspaper urges that peoples’ lives and health must come first, noting that Japan’s COVID-19 vaccines remain only available to seniors, and it is unlikely herd immunity will be reached anytime soon.
It also noted that the pandemic has disrupted many athletes’ trainings and even prevented some from competing in qualifiers. Moreover, it noted the “huge gap” that exists between countries where progress has been made in mass inoculations and those where it hasn’t, saying this divide is “obviously affecting athletes’ training and performances.”
“The prime minister is reportedly determined to proceed with the Games, no matter what the Japanese people have to say,” the editorial adds. “Come to think of it, what are the Olympic Games, after all? If the highly divisive Tokyo Olympics are staged without the public’s blessing, what will have been gained and lost?”
The wide-ranging editorial from the Asahi Shimbun comes less than a week after it published a survey conducted by telephone in Japan that found 83% of respondents said the Tokyo Olympics should be postponed or scrapped. Broken down further, 43% said the games should be “canceled,” and 40% said they should be “postponed again.” Only 14% said the Tokyo Olympics should be held this summer.
In addition, 73% of respondents said they were “unconvinced” by Suga’s repeated assurances that it is possible to hold the games safely.
Public opposition to the games has mounted in recent weeks. A Change.org petition started by a Tokyo-based lawyer calling on the International Olympic Committee to cancel the games has garnered nearly 400,000 signatures in just a few weeks.
Business leaders in Japan have also spoken out against hosting the games as the pandemic still rages across the globe.
Masayoshi Son, the billionaire chief executive of Japan’s telecom giant Softbank, expressed concern in a tweet on Sunday over holding the Olympics given vaccination delays in Japan and COVID-19 variants that could come into the country when some 100,000 Olympic athletes, staff and more enter. He acknowledged canceling the games could be costly but added that by holding it, “I think we will lose something bigger.”
Son’s worries are backed up by research from the Tokyo-based economic and consulting firm Nomura Research Institute, which estimated that cancelling the games would cost Japan some $17 billion. The same researchers, however, warned that the economic loss of cancelling the games would be smaller than the economic damage done by enacting another state of emergency should cases surge, according to the Japan Times.
Jun Nagata, an executive at Toyota — one of the Olympics’ top sponsors — said during an earnings call earlier this month that the company initially decided to sponsor the games “because we share the spirit of creating, through sports, a peaceful and inclusive society without discrimination.”
“We have been deeply concerned by reports of athletes becoming the target of some people’s frustrations about the current medical situation,” he said.
Nagata added that Toyota has been working to identify what it can do as a sponsor to address this and also help provide “peace of mind for all the athletes and people in this country.”
As of mid-May, the percentage of Japan’s population that has been vaccinated against COVID-19 remains in the single digits.
Earlier this week, the U.S. issued a warning to avoid travel to Japan due to high rates COVID-19 — though the warning is essentially meaningless, as Japan has been barring American tourists from entering for months now as part of its own COVID-19 mitigation strategy.
Japan has reported 32,509 new cases in the past week and 654 new deaths, according to Johns Hopkins data. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Japan has reported a total of 726,586 confirmed cases and 12,457 deaths.
The U.S., which has nearly three times the population of Japan, has reported 169,087 new cases in the past week and 3,641 deaths. In total, the U.S. has reported 33,166,418 cases and 590,941 deaths — the highest case and death count of any nation, according to Johns Hopkins.
Last Friday, Olympic organizers said that as many as 75% of the residents of the Olympic Village have been vaccinated or secured a vaccination appointment and that they are forging ahead with plans to put on the event.
“It has become clearer than ever that these Games will be safe for everyone participating and the Japanese people,” John Coates, the chair of the IOC’s coordination commission for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, said in a statement. “With the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games just over two months away, we are now fully in operational delivery mode.”