— Published 25 August 2021

In Tokyo, Thomas Bach is no longer popular


Thomas Bach will have to get used to it: his popularity is in free fall in Japan. The day after the Tokyo Olympic Games, on Monday, August 9th, his escorted walk in the chic Ginza district was heavily criticised, especially on social networks. His quick visit to the Paralympic Games, which began earlier this week, is even more so.

This time, the attack came from above. Shigeru Omi, a Japanese sanitary expert and chairman of a government sub-committee dedicated to the fight against the expansion of COVID-19, used a parliament session to denounce the IOC president’s new trip to Tokyo.

“I wonder why he bothered to come,” said the Japanese scientist, who was introduced as the government’s top advisor on the sanitary crisis. “He should be able to judge with a minimum of common sense.”

Shigeru Omi suggested it without taking any precautions: Thomas Bach could have avoided returning to Tokyo for the Paralympics, especially without undergoing the mandatory three-day isolation period, at a time when the Japanese authorities are urging people to stay at home, avoid non-essential outings and favour working remotely. He said the German leader’s visit sends the wrong message.

“He has already been to Tokyo. Hasn’t he already been to Ginza too? My opinion on this matter is not that of an expert committee member, but of an ordinary citizen,” insisted the Japanese. “I think he could have been satisfied with a virtual presence, an online intervention.”

The day after the Tokyo Olympics ended, his appearance in the Ginza district had already caused controversy. Many people questioned the preferential treatment given to the IOC president, while the organising committee forbade athletes to visit Tokyo.

Clearly, the tension is still high. Yasutoshi Nishimura, the Japanese minister in charge of managing the sanitary crisis, stepped into the breach opened by Shigeru Omi on Wednesday, August 25th. He explained in another parliamentary session that he intended to ask Thomas Bach to “take into consideration the impact on national sentiment”.

Thomas Bach has been invited to the Paralympic Games by the IPC. He arrived in Tokyo on Monday, on the eve of the opening ceremony. He is due to leave on Thursday, August 26th. On Wednesday, the first day of the competitions, he was seen at three Paralympic venues, attending the swimming, wheelchair basketball and goalball events. At the pool, he presented medals to the top three finishers in two of the day’s finals.

His presence itself in Tokyo does not seem likely to create controversy. The IOC and IPC have never been so close. The two bodies have been working hand in hand on marketing for several years. Andrew Parsons, the IPC President, is an IOC member. Thomas Bach’s visit at the start of the Paralympic Games is therefore not shocking.

But the reactions it provoked, both in public opinion and at the top of the government, showed that the good results of the Japanese athletes at the Olympic Games had not reversed the trend: the Japanese did not want the Games in the midst of a sanitary crisis. They still don’t want them. They endure them, but they have difficulty understanding that an international leader should benefit from preferential treatment.