Olympic organizers saw the Tokyo Games as a moment of triumph – for humanity in the face of the pandemic and for Japanese leadership in the face of doubts from a skeptical public.
But officials spent the day before the opening ceremony apologizing publicly for the Holocaust jokes made by the man who was, until Thursday, the director of the opening ceremony, even though ‘They were looking to minimize the number of COVID-19 cases among Olympics participants, which has now jumped to triple digits. Away from Olympic venues, meanwhile, protesters and petitions continued to demand the cancellation of a sporting event that has already staged its first matches.
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“There have been so many scandals,” said Shoji Sadamitsu, 68, a retired elementary school teacher who joined a small protest against the Olympics in Yokohama on Thursday, with local educators rallying behind a sign saying, “Human life is more important than the Olympics and Paralympics.
In the latest scandal, organizers fired Kentaro Kobayashi, director of the opening and closing ceremonies, just over 24 hours before an inaugural performance that could otherwise have been used to galvanize a disgruntled audience. Mr. Kobayashi was fired after a video of a 1998 comedy act was released in which he said, “Let’s play the Holocaust.
His departure follows the resignation earlier this week of Opening Ceremony composer Keigo Oyamada amid public outrage over comments he made in the mid-1990s describing how he bullied his people. disabled classmates, including forcing a boy to eat his own feces. Mr. Oyamada had provided approximately four minutes of music for the ceremony. The organizers have pledged to replace his contributions.
Children’s author Nobumi withdrew from an Olympic cultural event on Tuesday after criticism from the public over previous comments deemed discriminatory against children with congenital disorders.
This week’s fury came after a high-profile controversy earlier in the year over the remarks by Yoshiro Mori, the former head of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee, who said at a meeting of the Japanese Olympic Committee that women talked too much. He then resigned.
The Tokyo Games had chosen “Unity in Diversity” as their slogan.
“This is a real crisis for Japan and has really put the spotlight on the underside of Japan,” said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University Japan. “What he pointed out was how far removed from Japan’s aging ruling elite from global norms and values is. “
Countries are looking for the Olympics as a way to show off their best attributes. The Tokyo Games did the opposite, he said. “When you think of Japan, don’t you think of a good organization? Good logistics? Good implementation? Attention to detail? Said Professor Kingston. But for these Olympics, “where are these virtues?
On Thursday, a gloomy Toshiro Muto, general manager of the Tokyo Games, admitted that the “negative incidents” were deteriorating the atmosphere that the organizers hoped to create. “We are actually facing a lot of challenges right now,” he said. Seiko Hashimoto, president of the organizing committee, read Mr. Kobayashi’s apology following his remarks.
“How we are going to handle the ceremonies is currently under discussion,” she said. She nevertheless made an optimistic note: “I hope that these Games will be full of hope, and that they will unify the world.
Even without the veil of resignations, the pandemic restrictions had already threatened the energy of the opening ceremony. It will be held in the newly built Olympic Stadium, with a capacity of 68,000 people. But most spectators have been banned from the Games to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak. On Thursday, organizers said they expected 950 people to attend the opening ceremony. National television audiences can also be slim.
“At the moment, I understand that some people – a lot of people – don’t even want to watch the ceremony,” Ms. Hashimoto said.
On Wednesday, only 2,000 people came to watch the first football matches at Miyagi Stadium. The stadium is one of the few venues outside Tokyo to have allowed spectators, but Wednesday’s crowd is well below the 10,000 people organizers said they would allow in the stands.
The pandemic has only added to doubts about the Olympics among a Japanese public who, according to opinion polls, have maintained strong opposition to the Games being held. In the past week, the organizers of two petitions submitted more than half a million signatures calling for the cancellation of a sports competition that a petition called “historic outrage”.
“It does not make sense to move forward with the Olympics in the current circumstances, where we are facing the spread of the novel coronavirus and other challenges,” said sociologist Chizuko Ueno, one of the organizers of a petition submitted to authorities in Tokyo on July 19 with 139,000 signatures, told reporters this week.
A total of 87 participants in the Olympics have now tested positive for COVID-19, including 20 discovered during tests on arrival at the airport and 67 others during regular screening tests for athletes, media, officials and volunteers. These cases concern 32,000 arrivals at the airport and 96,000 screening tests, organizers said. Positive tests are “an extremely low ratio” and represent less than a sixth of positive cases among arrivals from non-Olympic airports, said Hidemasa Nakamura, the main head of the Tokyo Games operations center.
But public resentment is so strong that Toyota, one of Japan’s main sponsors of the Games, has pulled Olympic-themed ads in its domestic market and canceled plans for its president to attend the ceremony. opening.
In Yokohama on Thursday, salesperson Miho Asano, 31, said if it was in her power, she would still cancel the Olympics. “But I guess no one can stop it anymore,” she said.
Instead, the Japanese will live with a Games that promised pride – but which the string of scandals has so far shamed.
“It’s embarrassing that this is known around the world,” Ms. Asano said.
– With the report by Naoko Mikami
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