TOKYO • Japanese newspaper publisher The Asahi Shimbun, an official partner of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, yesterday called for the Summer Games to be cancelled in an editorial, citing risks to public safety and strains on the medical system from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Opinion polls dating back to last year have consistently shown that the majority of the Japanese public are opposed to holding the July 23-Aug 8 Games.
They are concerned about the fact that tens of thousands of athletes and officials are descending on a country that has largely remained closed to foreigners since last year and where vaccinations have proceeded slowly.
Medical associations have also protested against the holding of the Games, while investors have talked up the benefits of shelving them, and even influential businessmen such as SoftBank chief executive officer Masayoshi Son have called for the event's axing.
"We ask Prime Minister (Yoshihide) Suga to calmly and objectively assess the situation and decide on the cancellation of the event this summer," said Asahi, a left-leaning daily often critical of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
"We are far from a situation in which everybody can be confident they will be 'safe and secure'," the paper added, invoking the government mantra about the Games. "Sadly, that is not the reality."
But in a later statement, Asahi said it remained committed to being an official partner of the Tokyo Games and that its editorial division had its independent mission.
The company would "continue its activities as an official partner while monitoring the Covid-19 situation", it added.
Asahi's editorial was widely shared on social media, garnering more than 30,000 tweets by late morning, but Tokyo 2020 chief executive officer Toshiro Muto played down the opposition, claiming it was "only natural" for news organisations to have different views on the Games.
Organisers are continuing to dig their heels in, pointing to other successful sports events as evidence that the Games can go ahead.
Speaking yesterday ahead of a Tokyo 2020 executive board meeting, Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto said only one coach tested positive for Covid-19 over the course of four recent test events with almost 7,000 visitors from some 50 countries.
The events "are evidence that our current coronavirus precautions are effective", she insisted.
The LDP's stance also remains unchanged, with heavyweight politician Kozo Yamamoto telling Reuters: "Even baseball matches are being held currently with spectators. Why not go ahead with the Games?
"The Olympics will happen, even without spectators... Once it begins, everybody will be glad."
Still, doubts over the Games continue to grow after Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike yesterday said she will request that the current state of emergency - which is Japan's third and originally set to be lifted at the end of this month - be extended for "about another month", mere weeks before the start of the Games.
With just over 5 per cent of the population vaccinated and the country's programme currently prioritising those 65 or over as well as medical workers, the Japanese Olympic Committee will make use of the donation agreement reached between the International Olympic Committee and Pfizer and BioNTech to provide vaccine doses to its athletes.
Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa said that Japan will receive around 20,000 doses, which will also be given to those working at the Games, such as interpreters and referees, and inoculation will start from Tuesday.