IOC stands by Tokyo Games despite surging unpopularity, COVID cases

Apr 6, 2021; Tokyo, JAPAN; General view of the Olympic rings sculpture, Rainbow Bridge, and Tokyo Tower as seen from Odaiba in preparation for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games set to begin in July 2021. Mandatory Credit: Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

The International Olympic Committee expressed confidence on Wednesday that the Tokyo Games can be held safely this summer, despite growing unpopularity in Japan.

“When the Games happen and the Japanese people are proud hosts of an event that will be an historic moment, I think I am very confident we will see public opinion hugely in favor of the Games,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said in an online news conference.

The news conferences were interrupted by a protester who had registered as a journalist. When called upon, the person yelled profanities and shouted “No Olympics anywhere” before being cut off.

The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to open on July 23, one year late. The 2020 Games were postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, and COVID-19 remains a major source of worry in Japan.

Last Friday, Japan hit a single-day record of 148 deaths related to COVID-19 amid a fourth wave of infections, with the nationwide count of daily cases more than 6,000, the Japan Times reported. It was the highest number of daily cases since mid-January.

Tokyo is among the cities under a state of emergency through at least May 31.

Japan’s vaccine rollout has been slow. The vaccinations are available only to health care workers and people 65 and older, and only 1 percent of the population has had both doses of a two-dose vaccine. A 2020 study also revealed that the people of Japan have a low confidence in the vaccine, with only 30 percent believing they are safe and effective.

Earlier this week, IOC president Thomas Bach called off his scheduled trip to Japan due to the surge in COVID-19 cases.

Polling in the country by the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper shows that nearly 60 percent of Japan’s residents wants the games to be called off. The Japan Times said an online petition requesting their cancellation has garnered 330,000 signatures.

The news conference followed a monthly meeting of the IOC executive board.

“We listen but won’t be guided by public opinion,” Adams said. “Everything is telling us that the Games can go ahead and will go ahead.”

Already, 7,800 athletes, representing 70 percent of the participants expected, have qualified for the Olympics. Last week, Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech SE said they would donate their vaccines to the IOC to be used to vaccinate athletes and team delegations for the Olympics and Paralympics.

–Field Level Media