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Tokyo Olympics Covid protest: Hundreds demand Government U-turn

Hundreds of people have mobilised around Tokyo’s National Stadium in mass protest against the upcoming Olympic Games.

Japan remains insistent that the games will go ahead, despite being delayed for a year following the global outbreak of coronavirus.

Now, with the proposed start date of July 23 for the revised Games rapidly approaching, masses of people are making their voices heard and calling for the cancellation of the Olympics, in order to protect the people from the potential mass spreading of the virus once more.

Japan finds itself in a precarious situation, having had borders essentially sealed for the best part of the last 12 months, yet the Olympics and Paralympics will draw 15,000 athletes and tens of thousands of officials, judges, media and broadcasters.

Protestors formed huge lines around the stadium, while watched over by local police forces incase of unrest. The movement gathered momentum and lasted well past sunset, into the evening.

Hundreds of people gathered outside Tokyo’s National Stadium to have their voices heard

Locals marched, while monitored by police, holding banners reading 'Olympics kill the poor'

Locals marched, while monitored by police, holding banners reading ‘Olympics kill the poor’

One banner relating to the games read: 'Stop forced attendance of children'

One banner relating to the games read: ‘Stop forced attendance of children’

The protests lasted long into the evening and started to gain momentum after sunset

The protests lasted long into the evening and started to gain momentum after sunset 

A large opposition is now rising with Japanese fearful of another large Covid-19 outbreak

A large opposition is now rising with Japanese fearful of another large Covid-19 outbreak

One banner read ‘Olympics kill the poor!’, in backlash against the increased risk of the vulnerable people in Tokyo locality being exposed to a greater risk of Covid-19 transmission due to thousands of people set to flock to the city.

Yet IOC member and two-time Olympic gold medalist Sebastian Coe has again sought to reassure athletes and sceptical residents of Japan that the postponed Olympics will be safe when they open in just under 11 weeks.

Coe heads track and field’s world governing body World Athletics, which ran a test event on Sunday with 420 athletes – only nine of whom entered from outside Japan to compete. 

‘I recognise that nine athletes coming for a test event is very different from thousands of competitors coming to this city over the course of the summer months,’ Coe said.

One protester set up a megaphone and began communicating to others during the event

One protester set up a megaphone and began communicating to others during the event

An organised march continued around the stadium as the protest gathered momentum

An organised march continued around the stadium as the protest gathered momentum

The people of Tokyo are making it clear they feel the games cannot go ahead in this climate

The people of Tokyo are making it clear they feel the games cannot go ahead in this climate

He added that he was ‘very empathetic’ with the concerns of a Japanese public that has shown in polls it overwhelmingly opposes holding the Olympics during a pandemic.

Outside the stadium, the scene was different with about one hundred ‘anti-Olympic’ protesters marching around the venue in central Tokyo chanting and holding posters that read: ‘Olympics – Just Stop It’ and ‘Stop forced attendance of Children.’

‘There is an infectious disease going on and so I think they should spend more money on medical care,’ said Takashi Sakamoto, a local individual who attended the rally and works in warehouses and cleans buildings.

‘Even before the pandemic, there were people who can’t buy food and became homeless, and the pandemic has made things worse,’ he added.

Sebastian Coe has again sought to reassure athletes and sceptical residents of Japan

Sebastian Coe has again sought to reassure athletes and sceptical residents of Japan

Miyuki Otomo, a retired teacher attending the rally, called the Olympics a ‘horrendous event’ that is being pushed on the public for commercial reasons.

‘If the Olympics were really a normal event, they would simply cancel it because of the pandemic.’

Opposition to the Olympics seems to be rising in Japan, though the small rally belied that. An online petition asking for the games to be canceled attracted 300,000 signatures in just three days and was still climbing on Sunday.

Some medical officials in Japan have also suggested the Olympics be cancelled, as did the British Medical Journal in a editorial last month. The virus and its spreading variants are taxing Japan’s health-care system with only 2 per cent of the population vaccinated.

Olympic organisers have asked for 10,000 medical specialists to help during the games, but say their deployment will not affect ordinary Japanese.

Despite public opposition, all signs point to the Olympics opening on July 23. Japan has officially spent $15.4 billion on the Olympics – some estimates suggest twice that – and the International Olympic Committee relies on billions in television broadcast income that has been stalled by the pandemic.

Doubt however is creeping in among the soon-to-be competing athletes, with national icon Naomi Osaka recently voicing concern regarding the safety and logistics of the games.

The tennis star said who represents Japan, was asked about the Games at the Italian Open on Sunday, and replied: ‘Of course I would say I want the Olympics to happen, because I’m an athlete and that’s sort of what I’ve been waiting for my entire life.

‘But I think that there’s so much important stuff going on, and especially the past year.

National icon Naomi Osaka has admitted that a serious 'discussion' now needs to take place

National icon Naomi Osaka has admitted that a serious ‘discussion’ now needs to take place

‘I think a lot of unexpected things have happened and if it’s putting people at risk, and if it’s making people very uncomfortable, then it definitely should be a discussion, which I think it is as of right now,’ Osaka added.

Starting with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, to organising committee President Seiko Hashimoto, the message has been the same: the games can be held and will be ‘safe and secure,’ usually citing World Health Organisation guidance.

Hashimoto was forced to backpedal on Friday. She encouraged IOC President Thomas Bach not to make a pending visit to Japan this month with a state of emergency in Tokyo and elsewhere extended until May 31 because of the spreading virus. It was to end on Tuesday.

Japan has attributed almost 11,000 deaths to COVID – good by world standards but poor compared to Asian neighbours like Taiwan and Vietnam.

American sprinter Justin Gatlin, who is trying to reach his fourth Olympics, said he felt safe competing in Tokyo. Gatlin won the 100m final in 10.24 seconds.

Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto said Thomas Bach's visit to the city is now unlikely

Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto said Thomas Bach’s visit to the city is now unlikely

‘I felt beyond safe,’ he said. ‘I’ve been tested every day,’ he said, but warned that these Olympics will not please everyone.

‘I know a lot of athletes are not going to be happy with this, but these are the measures to keep us safe. I think it’s worth it.’

The IOC announced a few days go that vaccine developers Pfizer and BioNTech would donate doses to inoculate athletes and officials preparing for Tokyo. The IOC has repeatedly said the Olympics were being organised as if the vaccines were not available, but has pushed hard to get athletes vaccinated.

Several Japanese athletes competing in the meet were asked if they would take the vaccine. Most said they needed to think about it, but Japanese 5,000-meter runner Hitomi Niiya said she opposed putting athletes at the front of the line.

‘I don’t think athletes should be treated specially,’ she said. ‘I think all lives matter and I don’t think it’s a matter of priority. Athletes and the general public are all the same and should be treated fairly.’ 

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