First came the protesters. Then, the signatories of a petition with hundreds of thousands of signatures. Now it’s the doctors: one of the main associations of this profession in Tokyo has publicly requested that the Tokyo Olympics be canceled, given the wave of covid cases that Japan suffers. Citizen opposition to the macro sports event being held this summer does not stop growing: just two months before the official opening on July 23, up to 80% of the population, according to some polls, is in favor of postponing it to next year or to do without it altogether.
The most recent protest comes from the Tokyo General Practitioners Association, which represents some 6,000 primary care doctors and who warns that the hospitals in the Japanese capital, where the Games will be held, are already “overworked and barely they have extra capacity ”, given the rise in cases. “We ask the authorities to convince the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that holding the Games will be difficult, and to obtain their approval to cancel them,” they explain in an open letter addressed to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and published this week. . A union of health workers had already expressed itself in a similar way the week before; from time to time there are protests with the same messages.
In addition, last Friday, lawyer Kenji Utsonomiya presented to the mayor of Tokyo a petition with 350,000 signatures, addressed, among others, to the President of the IOC, Thomas Bach. His message: “cancel the Tokyo Games to protect our lives.” “Although spectators from abroad will not be allowed, the competitions will cause huge movements of people and, therefore, contact; it is very possible that they will become a super contagious event and the situation in which we find ourselves right now will get worse ”, the letter says.
They are arguments that are heard over and over again in conversations in Japan. Among the experts. In your Parliament. Even among athletes. And it goes to more. A survey published over the weekend by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper found that 43% of citizens want the Games to be canceled, and 40% to have them suspended until next year. A month ago, those figures were 35 and 34%, respectively.
Despite citizen resistance, the IOC insists that the event will go ahead as planned. There will be no more postponements after the pandemic and will force it to be postponed in 2020. “Everything tells us that the Games can go ahead, and they will go ahead,” said Mark Williams, spokesman for the international sports institution that owns the tournament, last week. .
The Japanese government is also inclined to maintain them. According to the Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, Japan can hold a “safe and sound” Games, in which all kinds of measures will be applied to prevent the risk of contagion.
A new suspension, or the final goodbye, would represent a profound economic blow for the host country: those in Tokyo are already the most expensive Games in history; according to official figures last December, its cost exceeded 15,000 million dollars. It is already double what was calculated when the tournament was awarded to Tokyo, back in 2013. But, in addition, a national audit estimates that spending will exceed 26,000 million. More than what it means to implement the definitive anticovid measures.
But the cancellation would also imply a severe setback for a government that has invested a good part of its political capital on holding what was originally promoted as the “Recovery Games.” That is, the normalization after years of economic stagnation and a decade of reconstruction after the triple disaster -earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident- in Fukushima in 2011. And it would mean a huge “loss of face” against its giant neighbor and regional rival China, which with the pandemic almost completely overcome, is preparing to celebrate its own Winter Olympics in February in style.
Although, given the strong public opposition, which has precipitated the popularity of the prime minister to the ground, Suga has also declared that “he will not put the Games” before any other consideration. And he has come to pass the hot potato to the IOC, declaring that it is this institution that will have the last word.
Among Japanese citizens, the resistance stems from concern about COVID. Although, compared to other western countries, Japan is relatively well off in the face of the pandemic, it suffers a fourth wave that has set off alarms and has brought the total number of cases to close to 700,000 in this country of 125 million inhabitants. The incidence has forced to decree a state of sanitary emergency in nine prefectures (provinces) until May 31 and to impose restrictive measures in another ten. The health system warns of a shortage of personnel and beds available in hospitals.
Added to this is the slow pace of the vaccination campaign, which has barely inoculated 3% of citizens. Among other factors, the distrust of citizens towards this type of medicine, the complex bureaucratic system for the approval of the formulas and the scarcity of available doses has played a role. Although efforts are now beginning to carry out mass inoculations in Osaka and Tokyo, the country’s largest cities, they have been hampered by technical problems.
Critics of the Games protest about the possibility of dedicating to the participants in the competition sanitary resources that local residents may need. They are also concerned about the possibility that sports delegations could introduce some of the most contagious variants of the covid into the country, or that the competition could become a super contagious event. Several towns near Tokyo have already withdrawn from the program to host foreign athletes during the tournament.
Although the arrival of the public from abroad has been prohibited, and a very strict protocol of medical tests and separation between the sports delegations and the Japanese public is being prepared -if there is one-, the concern has also extended to some athletes and teams . Several preparation events have been suspended; Canadian athlete Eric Lamaze, who overcame a brain tumor three years ago, has announced that he will not participate. The Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka herself has explained how participating in the Games represents a dream for any athlete, but the safety of others is also important. “If you put others at risk … then I think there should be a debate, and I think it’s happening right now,” declared the current number 2 in the women’s world ranking.
The president of world athletics, Sebastian Coe, has instead been emphatically in favor of the celebration, in statements to the CNN. “Should we have the Games? Yes. Can we keep them safe and sound? I think so… I am confident that they will be held; everyone is determined to get it ”.