Olympics latest: Support for games grows in new Japan poll

TOKYO — The July 23 opening ceremony of the delayed Tokyo Olympics is drawing nearer, but there is still much to be decided before the world’s biggest sporting event can go ahead.

The International Olympic Committee is insistent that the Games take place as planned, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says authorities will do their utmost to ensure a “safe and secure” event. But Tokyo is still under a state of emergency, polls show the Japanese public are widely opposed to holding them this year, and COVID-19 cases are rising again in countries across Asia and elsewhere.

Here are the latest developments in this fast-evolving story:

Monday, June 7 (Tokyo time)

10:00 a.m. A new poll suggests a shift in Japanese public sentiment toward the Olympics, with 50% now saying they would hold the games this summer, though opposition and concerns about coronavirus measures remain strong.

A survey by Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper found 24% of respondents would hold the games with limited spectators while 26% would go ahead without audiences. Meanwhile, 48% said they would cancel, down from 59% in early May. But 63% still felt COVID-19 precautions on athletes and officials coming from overseas were insufficient.

Sunday, June 6

9:30 p.m. Japanese sprinter Ryota Yamagata sets a new national 100-meter record, Kyodo News reports. His time in a race in western Japan, 9.95 seconds, beats the nation’s previous record by 0.02. Yamagata won a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics with Japan’s 4×100-meter relay team, and becomes only the fourth Japanese runner to finish a 100-meter race in under 10 seconds.

Saturday, June 5

6:00 p.m. The Tokyo 2020 organizers are denying a report that some corporate sponsors have proposed delaying the games, saying there has been “no such request,” according to Kyodo News.

The Financial Times on Friday reported that some sponsors had suggested putting off the event until later this year, when more fans might be able to attend.

5:15 p.m. Australia’s Olympic softball team — the first group of athletes to arrive in Japan for the Tokyo Games — has started its training camp, Kyodo News reports. 

The team’s practice in Gunma Prefecture, north of Tokyo, was closed to fans and reporters to minimize the COVID-19 risk. The team has been vaccinated and will be tested regularly as a precaution, the news agency says.

Friday, June 4

11:45 p.m. Major Japanese sponsors of the Tokyo Olympics have called privately for the games to be delayed for several months more so that more fans can attend, the Financial Times reports, quoting two people as saying postponement would allow them to recover some value if it allowed spectators and greater movement around venues. Read more here.

7:20 p.m. The U.K.’s Olympic contingent will include mental health professionals, Reuters reports, citing The Times newspaper.

The report says 10 mental health experts will come along and monitor the team’s well-being under a sports psychologist and a doctor.

“We already took mental health very seriously but we recognize such issues have never been more acute in everyday life,” The Times quotes the British Olympic Association as saying.

The plan comes to light the same week Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open, saying she suffered from depression and struggled with obligatory press conferences. Her decision raised global awareness of the mental and emotional strain on athletes.

The British Olympic team at the Tokyo Games will include a squad of mental health professionals to watch over the athletes.

  © Reuters

6:00 p.m. Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee President Seiko Hashimoto brushes off criticism of the games, saying organizers have a “mission” to prepare. While a Japanese Olympic Committee board member earlier today wrote that the event had lost its meaning, Hashimoto suggests the global crisis gives “value and meaning to the games.”

She does say that if other organizers judge that going forward is difficult, “then it is also our mission to respond to such judgments.”

The comments come a day after Hashimoto said that “we cannot postpone again.”

4:20 p.m. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi intends to “connect” with the country’s athletes through an online conference in July, according to local media. Modi was reportedly briefed this week on measures being taken to send the team to Tokyo safely amid the pandemic.

1:30 p.m. With prominent voices making critical remarks about the games on Friday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga reiterates his intention to go forward. “By realizing a safe and secure games, we can deliver hope and courage to the world,” he says, according to Kyodo News.

12:35 p.m. Shigeru Omi, head of the Japanese government’s coronavirus advisory panel, says holding the games under a state of emergency “must definitely be avoided.”

Tokyo and several other municipalities are currently under a COVID-19 emergency declaration that was extended to June 20. IOC Vice President John Coates caused a stir last month by saying the games can still be held even if the emergency remains in place.

But Omi is not having it. “We should ramp up our effort to avoid [keeping] the state of emergency during the time left” before opening day, he tells media.

11:25 a.m. Across Japan, 479 municipalities are still planning to host training camps and post-games interaction programs, Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa tells reporters. Due to the pandemic, 122 municipalities have decided to cancel those programs as of Friday.

10:15 a.m. Kaori Yamaguchi, a Japanese Olympic Committee executive board member and former judoka, says the Tokyo Olympics “have already lost meaning and are being held just for the sake of them,” but that she believes it is too late to cancel.

In an opinion article published by Kyodo News this morning, she writes that canceling with only 49 days to go would “require too much energy to make and follow through with such a decision.” With public opinion strongly against the games but the International Olympic Committee determined to go ahead, she argues Japan has been “cornered” and is “damned if we do, and damned if we do not.”

“‘The power of sports’ is of little comfort to people worried about the medical situation and their future lives,” she says.

Yamaguchi warns that even if the games succeed at rousing emotions, they will leave a “bitter aftertaste.” But she expresses hope that “athletes will use this experience to grow into people who can speak out and debate.”

7:00 a.m. Japan’s government intends to cancel a reception for overseas dignitaries planned for Aug. 8, the day of the Olympic closing ceremony, Kyodo News reports overnight. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was due to host the event at a Tokyo hotel with officials from the International Olympic Committee, but it will be scrapped over coronavirus concerns and as part of efforts to scale down the games, the news agency says, citing anonymous sources.

3:10 a.m. Kenya’s Olympic committee plans to go ahead with pre-training camp in Kurume, the Japanese city that earlier this week had communicated its withdrawal from the host agreement, Reuters reports.

“As of today, the information we have as of now is that we are on,” says Francis Mutuku, acting secretary-general of the National Olympic Committee of Kenya, in a telephone interview.

The Japanese Embassy in Kenya says that news of the cancellation was “erroneously reported” and that Kurume’s mayor confirms that the city will continue with preparations to receive the Kenyan athletes, paying special attention to COVID-19 protocols.

2:50 a.m. The International Olympic Committee has announced a new take on collectible Olympic pins: a line of digital memorabilia in the form of nonfungible tokens.

The digital pins will be available for purchase starting midmonth — or to be “earned” starting later this year by playing an Olympic-themed video game.

NFTs use blockchain technology to create one-of-a-kind digital assets. Such tokens are being used in the art world.

The effort sees the IOC partnering with San Francisco game developer nWay, a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Animoca Brands, which claimed unicorn status after a recent funding round.

Thursday, June 3

7:00 p.m. Organizers reveal items to be used during medal ceremonies, including an official podium made from recycled plastic, Kyodo News reports — the latest sign of officials’ determination to forge ahead with 50 days to go.

The unveiling event at Ariake Arena, an Olympic venue on Tokyo’s waterfront, includes models sporting uniforms made from recycled fibers and carrying trays for the medals.

“For athletes standing on the podium and for others watching them, I believe [the ceremonies] will allow us to realize the value of holding the games during this time,” Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto is quoted as saying.

Medalists will stand on podiums like the one above, made from recycled plastic.

  © Reuters

The medals will be presented on trays like this.

  © Reuters

6:05 p.m. The head of the Japanese Olympic Committee expects around 95% of the nation’s Olympians will be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Kyodo News.

The JOC aims to inoculate about 1,600 athletes, coaches and staff with two doses before the games begin. Committee President Yasuhiro Yamashita, who received a shot on Thursday, says the take-up rate has been better than expected since the program started on Tuesday, thanks to sports organizations emphasizing that getting jabbed is “not only to protect ourselves but also to not cause trouble to others.”

He acknowledges public opposition to the games and the need to ensure safety, but says athletes should not feel guilty for preparing.

3:05 p.m. A foreign athlete tests positive for COVID-19 while in Japan, but not one headed for the Olympics. The Japan Football Association says a member of Ghana’s under-24 national team had a positive test on Thursday, just two days before he was set to play against Japan in southwestern Fukuoka Prefecture. Although the infected athlete has been quarantined and his teammates have tested negative, officials have not decided whether to proceed with the Saturday match.

11:10 a.m. The president of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee has insisted the games must go ahead as planned, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We cannot postpone again,” Reuters quotes Seiko Hashimoto as saying, citing an interview with Japan’s Nikkan Sports newspaper.

The former Olympian turned politician also rejected the possibility of canceling the games.

Lo Kuo-Hui of Chinese Taipei readies himself in the outfield at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 — the last time baseball was included at the games. 

  © Getty Images

7:54 a.m. Taiwan’s baseball association tweets that it is withdrawing from the final Olympic baseball qualifier in Mexico later this month — an event the island was due to host itself before tighter COVID-19 border rules prompted a venue change.

The decision comes with 50 days to go before the games open in Tokyo.

“In the end, the mountain was too big to move,” says the Chinese Taipei Baseball Association — the name under which Taiwan competes. The tweet does not go into detail but includes charts on Taiwan’s coronavirus situation.

Baseball is one of Taiwan’s most popular sports. But Japanese public broadcaster NHK says the island’s professional league decided against sending its players to Mexico over health concerns. The association then considered sending an amateur squad, but Taiwan’s recent COVID-19 surge complicated the planning.

6:00 a.m. Looking ahead to the Winter Olympics in Beijing next year, American gold medalist speed skater Apolo Ohno says the U.S. should compete rather than politicize the event with a boycott.

“I believe that America as a team should go and represent the absolute best that we can,” Ohno tells Fox Business. “We try to win in every single circumstance and situation.”

He says the U.S. team should focus on the “purity of sport” in Beijing.

Wednesday, June 2

9:36 p.m. The Japanese city of Kurume has pulled out of hosting Kenya’s pre-Olympics training camp as local COVID-19 infections spread rapidly, Kenya’s Olympic committee says. Facilities for training camps have become vaccination venues, the Kenyan statement quotes Kurume authorities as saying, though Japan has provided no immediate confirmation.

Many of Kenya’s athletes were to arrive July 7 in the city on the southern island of Kyushu, but the committee says “alternative arrangements” are being made. More than 100 Japanese municipalities have scrapped plans to host teams from abroad.

7:30 p.m. Around 10,000 volunteers who had signed up to help out at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games have quit as of June 1, Japan’s broadcaster NHK reports, citing Tokyo organizers. Around 80,000 volunteers have been recruited. Those who had withdrawn did so with reasons such as concerns over the pandemic and personal issues, among others.

Tokyo Olympics organizing committee chief Toshiro Muto later confirmed that about 10,000 volunteers had withdrawn from the event.

6:30 p.m. Kyodo News reports, citing sources, that the G-7 will express support for the Tokyo Olympics in a statement after a summit in the U.K. this month.

4:21 p.m. The Tokyo Metropolitan government formally announces it will scrap a plan to hold public viewing of the Olympics in the city’s Yoyogi Park. Instead, police and firefighters will be vaccinated in the park from next month.

A man poses for a portrait as he takes dogs for a walk at Yoyogi park in Tokyo on May 2.

  © Reuters

3:59 p.m. A member of the Australian women’s softball team’s coaching staff praises Japan’s handling of Olympic arrivals, in an interview with Nikkei Asia.

The team’s arrival yesterday was the first test of Tokyo 2020’s COVID protocols, which took five hours in Narita Airport as athletes and coaches passed through COVID tests, immigration and customs.

“We’re getting many questions from other sports about what immigration was like. The Japanese have set it up very well at the airport,” says Deidre Anderson, Softball Australia’s athlete wellbeing manager.

3:40 p.m. Shigeru Omi, head of the government’s coronavirus advisory panel, calls on organizers to strengthen control systems and downsize the games.

“Holding the games under the pandemic is usually unthinkable,” Omi tells parliament. “If organizers want the games to be staged, it is their responsibility to ramp up its control system while minimizing the scale of the games as much possible.”

1:52 p.m. South Korea asks the International Olympic Committee to pressure Japan to remove a reference to South Korea-controlled islands as Japanese territory on the Tokyo Games website.

The Korean Sport and Olympic Committee sent a letter late Tuesday asking the IOC to “actively mediate” the dispute, which has sparked outrage and protests in South Korea.

Tuesday, June 1

5:50 p.m. Some 200 people from seven Japanese sports organizations got vaccinated on Tuesday, JOC secretary-general Tsuyoshi Fukui and Senior Executive Board members Mitsugi Ogata say at a press briefing. They are the first of around 1,600 people including athletes, coaches and staff of the Japan Olympic Committee to receive doses.

5:16 p.m. South Korea summons Japan’s deputy ambassador to protest over a map on the Tokyo Olympics website that showed a set of South Korea-controlled islands as Japanese territory. The small islands, called Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan, have been at the center of a decades-long territorial dispute.

2:00 p.m. A promising Myanmar swimmer is calling on the International Olympic Committee to ban the Myanmar Olympic Committee from representing the country in the upcoming Tokyo Games, saying it “does not share Olympic values.”

Read Rurika Imahashi’s interview with Win Htet Oo here.

The Australian team arrives at Narita Airport in Chiba prefecture, Japan, on Tuesday.

  © Kyodo

1:50 p.m. Japan’s Digital Transformation Minister Takuya Hirai tells reporters that the estimated development cost for a smartphone app to track foreign visitors’ whereabouts during the Olympics will be 3.85 billion yen ($35.2 million), down 47% from the original estimate. This is because functions are reduced due to the foreign spectator ban.

12:23 p.m. The Japan Football Association says it has canceled a soccer game between Japan and Jamaica after ten Jamaican players were unable to board flights to Japan due to reasons such as COVID testing methods.

11:29 a.m. Not many towns seem willing to follow Ota in hosting foreign athletes. Over a hundred local authorities have decided to cancel training camps, Japan’s Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa tells reporters. Usually, the camps give visiting athletes an opportunity to acclimatize to local conditions and interact with residents.

10:43 a.m. Australia’s women’s softball team lands at Narita Airport, becoming the first team to arrive in Japan for the Tokyo Olympics. The 23 athletes, along with 7 coaches and staff, arrived early to get a headstart on the required quarantine period. They will remain in a bubble in Ota, Gunma Prefecture, for two and a half months, with only practice games with local teams on their schedule.

10:10 a.m. Vaccinations for Japanese athletes starts Tuesday at Tokyo’s Ajinomoto National Training Center. Around 1,600 people including athletes, coaches and staff of the Japan Olympic Committee will receive doses.

8:17 a.m. With possible implications on whether she will appear at the Tokyo Olympics, Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open after deciding to boycott post-match media duties, explaining she had been suffering from depression for almost three years.


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