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May 24, 2021

Backlash after Coates says Tokyo Olympics would go ahead under state of emergency

The claim from International Olympic Committee vice president John Coates that this year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo will proceed even if the region is under a Covid-19 state of emergency has prompted a backlash in Japan.

By Simon Ward

The claim from International Olympic Committee vice president John Coates that this year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo will proceed even if the region is under a Covid-19 state of emergency has prompted a backlash in Japan.

The population is largely opposed to the games taking place in July and August given the coronavirus situation in the country.

Tokyo is one of 10 regions currently under a state of emergency as the government looks to curb the infection rate.

However, asked in a news conference on Friday if the games, already postponed from last year, would go ahead under the current circumstances, Coates, who is also the chair of the IOC’s coordination commission for Tokyo 2020, said, “absolutely yes”.

A recent survey showed that more than eight in 10 Japanese citizens want the Olympics to be cancelled or postponed again.

However, Coates insisted that regardless of the health situation, the games can be held safely.

He said: “We've successfully seen five sports hold their test events during the state of emergency. All of the plans that we have in place to protect the safety and security of athletes and the people of Japan are based around the worst possible circumstances, so the answer [to whether the games can take place] is absolutely yes.

"The advice we have got from the World Health Organisation and all of the scientific advice, is that all the measures we have outlined in the playbook, all those measures are satisfactory to ensure a safe and secure games in terms of health, and that's whether there is a state of emergency or not."

Compared with some western countries, there have been relatively few deaths from Covid-19 in Japan, just over 12,000. However, Tokyo and various other prefectures are under a state of emergency until at least 31 May, and this is likely to be extended.

The situation is not helped by the fact that only a small proportion of Japanese citizens have been vaccinated, estimated at between 2 per cent and 4 per cent.

Asked about the negative opinion polls, Coates said: “There may well be a correlation between some of these percentages and the low percentages so far of people in Japan who have been vaccinated.

"I'm expecting that as the number of vaccinations increase that there will be better polls and public opinion will improve, but if it doesn't we just have to make sure that we get on with our job and our job is make sure these games are safe for all participants and all of the people of Japan."

Coates’ claims came in for heavy criticism on social media in Japan, and there was also displeasure with comments from IOC president Thomas Bach that “sacrifices” were necessary to ensure the Olympics go ahead.

High-profile opponents of the games include Masayoshi Son, the founder and chief executive of Japanese conglomerate SoftBank Group Corp. who wrote on Twitter: “Currently more than 80 per cent of people want the Olympics to be postponed or cancelled. Who and on what authority is it being forced through? Does the IOC have the power to decide that the games would go ahead?

"There's talk about a huge penalty (if the games are cancelled). But if 100,000 people from 200 countries descend on vaccine-laggard Japan and the mutant variant spreads, lives could be lost, subsidies could result if a state of emergency is called, and gross domestic product could fall. If we consider what the public has to endure, I think we could have a lot more to lose."

In an editorial on Sunday, the Shinano Mainichi Shimbun newspaper called for this year's games to be called off, saying: “We are in no mood to celebrate an event filled with fear and anxiety The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics should be cancelled … The government must make the decision to protect the lives and livelihood of the people.”

However, the IOC has played down the risks involved in tens of thousands of visitors heading to Tokyo for the Olympics, with Bach having claimed last week that more than 80 per cent of those in the Athletes’ Village would be vaccinated or booked for vaccination by the time of the games.

Addressing the congress of the FIH, field hockey's international governing body, on Saturday, the IOC president said: “The athletes definitely can make their Olympic dreams come true. We have to make some sacrifices to make this possible.”

The Olympics are scheduled for 23 July to 8 August, with the also-delayed Paralympics to follow from 24 August to 5 September.

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