TOKYO: Tokyo’s Olympic Village was hit by a fourth coronavirus case on Monday and major sponsor Toyota said it would not run any Games-related TV ads as the event struggled for support just days before the opening ceremony, with two-thirds of Japanese doubting organisers can keep the Games safe according to a local media poll.
A Czech beach volleyball player became the fourth case and the third infected athlete in the Village, where thousands of competitors are living in a biosecure “bubble”.
Elsewhere, a teenage female gymnast became the first American athlete to test positive at the Games, with a teammate also isolating as a result. Neither was named.
The delayed 2020 Games will officially get under way on Friday in a near-empty Olympic Stadium, with Tokyo under a coronavirus state of emergency after a spike in cases.
The latest Asahi Shimbun newspaper poll found 68% of respondents expressing doubt about the ability of Olympic organisers to control coronavirus infections, with 55% saying they were opposed to the Games going ahead.And a composer for the opening ceremony stepped down after admitting bullying disabled schoolmates, comments that caused an outcry in Japan.
It has not been a smooth final build-up for the Games, which were postponed last year, but officials will hope the tide of public opinion turns when the sports programme starts.
In a sign of the current sentiment Toyota, the world’s biggest automaker, said it would not run Olympics-related TV ads. Chief Executive Officer of Toyota Motor Corp, Akio Toyoda, and other executives will not attend the opening ceremony either.
“It is true that Toyota will not be attending the opening ceremony, and the decision was made considering various factors including no spectators,” a spokesperson said.
“We will not be airing any commercials related to the Games in Japan,” she added.
Fewer than 1,000 Olympic officials and VIPs including sponsors will be allowed to watch the opening ceremony on Friday, according to Japanese media.
Toyota’s operating officer Jun Nagata earlier told reporters it was becoming more difficult for the Olympics to strike a positive chord with the public.
“It is turning into an Olympics that cannot get understanding (from the public) in various ways,” Nagata told Japanese media.
Some 60 Japanese corporations who have paid more than $3 billion for sponsorship rights to the postponed 2020 Olympics now face a dilemma over whether or not to tie their brands to an event that has so far failed to win strong public backing.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has said he hopes the Japanese public will warm to the Games once competition begins and as Japanese athletes begin winning medals. The Tokyo Olympics run July 23 through Aug. 8.
“We will continue to co-operate and work closely with organisers such as Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Tokyo 2020, and the IOC to ensure we have a safe and secure environment for the Games,” government spokesperson, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said at a regular briefing.
Organisers insisted the Village was safe despite the coronavirus diagnosis for Czech beach volleyball player Ondrej Perusic, which follows positive tests from two South African footballers and a video analyst.
Twenty-one members of the South African men’s football contingent are in isolation after being named as close contacts, disrupting preparations for their opening game on Thursday against Japan.
Tokyo 2020 spokesman Masa Takaya earlier said, before the latest cases came to light, that there had been 61 positive cases connected with the Games so far -- a tiny fraction of the thousands of tests carried out.
“The IOC (International Olympic Committee) and Tokyo 2020 are absolutely clear that the Olympic Village is a safe place to stay,” Takaya said.
Brian McCloskey, chairman of the Independent Expert Panel advising the IOC, said a system of “filtering” — starting with athletes being tested before departure — was working.
“The numbers we’re seeing are actually extremely low,” he said. “They’re probably lower than we expected, if anything.”
Athletes are tested daily at the Olympics, where they are also told to observe social distancing and wear masks unless they are competing, eating or sleeping.
When asked about the risk of a cluster in the Village, McCloskey said: “All the measures that we have in place... will reduce the risk of spreading it.”
On Sunday six British track and field athletes along with two staff members were forced to isolate after someone on their flight to Japan tested positive.
“Many athletes may have parties or ceremonies before they go to Tokyo where there may be cheering or greeting. So they may also have a risk to get infected in their own countries,” said Koji Wada, a professor at Tokyo’s International University of Health and Welfare and an adviser on the government’s coronavirus response.
Composer Keigo Oyamada, known as Cornelius, is the latest in a string of departures from the Tokyo Olympic set-up, including former chief Yoshiro Mori, who stepped down over sexist comments.
After news of his involvement in the ceremony circulated online, interviews from the mid-1990s reemerged in which he discussed, without apparent remorse, his bullying of schoolmates with handicaps.
“I have become painfully aware that accepting the offer of my musical participation in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics lacked consideration to a lot of people,” he said.
In the political arena, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he would not visit Japan for the Games or a first in-person summit with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga after media reports cited a senior Japanese diplomat making offensive remarks about him.
Monday also brought a warning from the Tokyo 2020 organisers following local media reports of Games related visitors drinking in downtown Tokyo.
In an email it warned Olympic participants who had completed their 14 days of isolation to comply with Tokyo’s emergency declaration rules by staying out of bars serving alcohol or restaurants “illegally” staying open after 8:00pm.
“These incidents have also been raised in the National Diet, and have the potential to severely damage the reputation of the Tokyo 2020 Games and your organisations,” it said.
Published in Dawn, July 20th, 2021