Tokyo Olympics, Shrouded in Doubt, Still Pummeling Forward
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Tokyo Olympics, Shrouded in Doubt, Still Pummeling Forward

By Elizabeth Gibson for The J-Pop Exchange

The already-postponed 2020 Olympics could be heading for a perfect storm of failure. 

At first glance, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Japanese government, both insistent that the Games are indeed happening without further delay, seem much too big to fail. But on the other hand, with less than 100 days to go, Japan is in the middle of a fourth COVID wave with less than 1 percent of the population vaccinated -- with only half of that figure vaccinated with both doses. 

At the moment, the country is preparing for another state of emergency. The order -- which will be the country’s third state of emergency since the pandemic started -- is expected on Friday. Such measures are being reinstated after the latest resurgence was fueled by a new, more contagious variant of the virus that was detected earlier in Britain.

Additionally, anger and protests have begun crashing down on the streets of Tokyo. Support for the Olympics has never been this low, and demand for the cancellation of the Games is on the rise. Public protests are rare in Japan, but many citizens concerned about public health if the Games go forward as planned are angry the government isn’t willing to cancel or even postpone once more. Protestors and picketers have been popping up on sidewalks with signs that say, “NO OLYMPICS!”

In late March, a small rally of other protestors formed at the start of the torch relay -- in which some 10,000 runners carry and relay the torch for four months until the opening ceremony of the Olympics. “Gold medals are being given priority over people’s lives,” anti-Olympic activist, Misako Ichimura, yelled through a bullhorn speaker.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Ichimura is part of a group of about a dozen others who decided to protest the Games when they were first announced in 2013. The coronavirus is only one of their long list of concerns. Their original worries began when people living near the planned Olympic Stadium were being forced to move, and also because Japan was still reeling from a massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011 that caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

A recent poll showed more than 7 out of 10 Japanese citizens are unsupportive of the Olympic Games to be held in Tokyo this summer. The Kyodo poll found that 39.2 percent believe the postponed Olympics and Paralympics should be canceled, while 32.8 percent think they should be rescheduled. 

Despite the public outcry and non-support, Tokyo Organizing Committee President Seiko Hashimoto has insisted that the Games will go on. At a recent news conference, he said despite the “variety of concerns,” canceling the games is not on the table. He and other organizers say they have a responsibility to hold the event, “build a legacy” for society, and be “a light at the end of the tunnel.”

But, unsurprisingly, money is also a big factor in the decision to not cancel the Games. With cases still on the rise, the government keeps throwing more and more money at the Olympics. According to some estimates, costs are already running around four times higher than the original $7.5 billion budget -- which stands now around $30 billion -- a staggering figure, even by Olympic standards.


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