— Published 13 April 2021

Faced with the Tokyo Games, the Japanese always say no

The days go by, but nothing changes. On the eve of celebrating the symbolic date of D-100 days before the opening of the Tokyo Games, Wednesday April 14th, the Japanese public opinion remains overwhelmingly hostile to the holding of the Olympic event.

According to a poll conducted April 10-12 by Kyodo News agency, more than 70% of Japanese people continue to openly want the Tokyo Games to be canceled or postponed a second time.

In detail, 39.2% of those polled said they wanted the event to be outright canceled. A slightly lower proportion (32.8%) is in favour of a further postponement. In the opposite camp, they are only 24.5% to express their wish that the Games be held on the dates scheduled (July 23 to August 8).

With 100 days and a handful of hours to go before the opening ceremony, the Games are therefore eagerly awaited by less than a quarter of the host nation’s population. Certainly another Olympic record for Japan, like those already broken by Tokyo 2020 for event cost and marketing revenue. But a record that the country could have gone without.

The organisers do not have much to do with it. Admittedly, the controversies over the sexism of the former president of the organising committee, Yoshiro Mori, and the former artistic director of the ceremonies, Hiroshi Sasaki, did not help to raise the popularity rating of an event, already weighed down by a smell of corruption and a budget inflated with helium. But the latest Kyodo News poll confirms it: Much of the public hostility can be explained by fears of a new wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 92.6% of people interviewed by the news agency admit to fearing a resurgence of infections. The prospect of seeing athletes, coaches, officials and journalists from 205 countries around the world disembark in less than 100 days (North Korea has already announced its renunciation), gives a cold sweat to a Japanese public otherwise unconvinced by the health policy of its central government.

The vaccination campaign, which began last February, but only then was dedicated to health workers, gained momentum on Monday April 12th. Vaccine injections now apply to Japanese aged 65 and over. There are currently around 36 million across the archipelago.

But the imported doses are found to be insufficient. The pace of vaccination remains very slow. It may be able to immunize the older Japanese before the start of the Games, but it is not certain that the volunteers recruited by the organising committee will be vaccinated on time.

For the organising committee, public mistrust and the slowness of the vaccination campaign are not without effect on the next decisions. Topping the list is the number of spectators – Japanese and residents of Japan exclusively – authorised at competition venues. It is expected by the end of April.

In the current health context, it would be logical for the organisers to opt for a reduced tonnage, even if it means further reducing ticket sales.

In the meantime, the Olympic flame continues with some difficulty in its course in the archipelago. Tuesday, April 13th, its torchbearers experienced a great moment of solitude as they crossed in silence a vast park in the town of Suita, without the slightest public to see them trotting carrying the torch.

The route was supposed to take the streets of Osaka, but was rerouted at the request of local authorities. Each of the torchbearers was authorised to invite four people, family included. Around 100 torchbearers are scheduled for the two-day crossing of Osaka Prefecture, this Tuesday and Wednesday, April 14th. Four hundred spectators, therefore. Another Olympic record.