Public pressure mounts in Japan for Olympic cancellation

Asahi Shimbun, a leading Japanese newspaper, has called for the cancellation of the Tokyo Olympics. Recent polls show 80% of Japanese are against the Games, but the government, which has spent $15.4 billion, has made no indication they will be canceled.

Eugene Hoshiko/AP
A security guard wearing a protective mask walks in front of the Olympic Rings on May 9, 2021, in Tokyo. Although the U.S. issued a travel warning against traveling to Japan, the Japanese government is continuing with plans to host the postponed games in two months.

Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper on Wednesday called for the Tokyo Olympics to be canceled with the games set to open in less than two months.

It is the first of Japan’s major newspapers to make the move and joins some regional newspapers that have recently added to the growing opposition to holding the Olympics.

Coming out against the Olympics could be significant since the newspaper, like many in Japan, is a sponsor of the postponed Tokyo Games that are scheduled to open on July 23. Asahi is typically liberal-leaning and often opposes the ruling party led by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

“We cannot think it’s rational to host the Olympics in the city this summer,” the newspaper said in its editorial under a headline that read: “We Demand PM Suga Decide Cancellation.”

“Distrust and backlash against the reckless national government, Tokyo government and stakeholders in the Olympics are nothing but escalating,” the editorial added. “We demand Prime Minister Suga to calmly evaluate the circumstances and decide the cancellation of the summer event.”

Asahi has a morning circulation reported at 5.16 million, and 1.55 million for its evening edition. It is second in circulation behind Yomiuri Shimbun, and subsequently is the second largest circulating newspaper in the world behind Yomiuri.

Despite the editorial, there is no indication the International Olympic Committee or local organizers have any plans to pull the plug on the games. But opposition is mounting with only a tiny percentage of Japanese people now vaccinated.

Tokyo organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto said Wednesday he was aware of the editorial, but offered little response.

Asahi is one of about 70 local Olympic sponsors that have chipped in almost $3.5 billion to the organizing committee budget. It is also one of a half dozen newspapers that are sponsors.

“Of course, different press organizations have different views. And that’s very natural,” Mr. Muto said, adding local partners, or sponsors, continued to offer “support.”

Senior IOC member Richard Pound said in an interview with Japan’s JiJi Press last week that the final deadline to call off the Olympics was still a month away.

“Before the end of June, you really need to know, yes or no,” Mr. JiJi quoted Mr. Pound as saying.

The British Medical Journal called last month for a hard look at going forward with the Olympics. Local medical officials have also been skeptical, and billionaire businessman Masayoshi Son suggested over the weekend that the IOC was forcing the Olympics on Japan.

“Right now, more than 80% of the nation’s people want the Olympics postponed or canceled,” said Mr. Son, the founder and CEO of SoftBank Group Corp. who also owns the SoftBank Hawks baseball team.

“Who is forcing this to go ahead, and under what rights?” Mr. Son added.

Asahi also criticized the IOC, calling it “self-righteous” and also lambasted IOC vice president John Coates. Last week, Mr. Coates was asked if the Olympics would be held if a state of emergency were in force.

“Absolutely, yes,” he replied.

The newspaper said there was a “huge gap” between Mr. Coates’ words and the sentiments “of the people.”

“Despite its overgrown size and excessive commercialism and many other problems, the Olympics have been supported because of empathy for its ideals. ... But what is the reality now?” Asahi asked.

On Tuesday, the Japanese government said a warning by the United States to avoid travel to Japan would have no impact on holding the Olympics.

Japan has officially spent $15.4 billion to organize the Olympics, and government audits suggest it might be much larger. The IOC gets billions from selling broadcast rights, which amounts to about 75% of its income.

Public opinion polls in Japan show between 60-80% want the Olympics canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and an online petition asking the games be canceled has gained 400,000 signatures in a few weeks.

Tokyo, Osaka, and other regions of the country are under a state of emergency that is likely to be extended past its May 31 expiration.

Organizers and the IOC, often citing the authority of the World Health Organization, say the games can be held safely with 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes entering Japan, joined by tens of thousands of judges, officials, sponsors, broadcasters and media.

Fans from abroad have already been banned, and organizers are to announce next month if any fans at all will be allowed into Olympic venues.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. AP writer Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report.

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