Media  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2021.06.10

What is really behind the calls to cancel the Olympics?

the japan times on May 30, 2021

International Politics/Diplomacy

Last week I received my first COVID-19 vaccination at the mass inoculation center in Tokyo’s financial district, Otemachi. At the age of 68, I was eligible for the long-awaited antivirus shots and found myself as one of the 7.6 million Japanese so far vaccinated at least once.

Getting into the building was a bit of a process with its long queue. But once inside, the entire procedure was smooth, and getting the shot proved to be a painless experience.

It also gave me a new perspective on the pandemic. If you have enough vaccines in your country, you can start controlling the situation. And despite continued minor setbacks, I am convinced that if we have the right organization with the right chain of command in place, we can not only address the spread of COVID-19 but also host the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The Asahi Shimbun, a major sponsor of the 2020 Tokyo Games, called in an editorial last week for the Olympic and Paralympic Games to be canceled.

The Asahi is the only national paper calling for the games to be scrapped, which Bloomberg News noted was “the latest blow for an event already postponed by a year because of the pandemic.”

The Asahi editorial certainly made waves and raised several questions, including is it part of a political game aimed at weakening Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga?

Of course, some previous opinion polls have shown that three out of five Japanese believe the event should be canceled. Those were, however, polls that had been conducted before the recent mass vaccinations began.

Although I was skeptical in the past, now that I have received the first of what should eventually be two vaccination shots, I am more supportive of the event.

While some in the Western media have criticized the plan to go through with the games because of the growing opposition in Japan itself, an op-ed written by columnist Henry Olsen in the Washington Post on Thursday reinforced my proposition, saying the games are very much needed and they can go forward safely.

“The games should continue because the world needs an example that life can be normal again.” Olsen wrote. “The Summer Olympics are virtually the only event that truly unites the globe in friendship.”

He went on to say, “If the world wants the burst of psychic energy the games could provide, it should step up now to ensure that happens” and “this means dramatically increasing the rate of vaccination among the Japanese.” This is happening right now in Japan.

As for the Asahi editorial, what’s particularly concerning here is the self-contradiction between its words and actions. The Asahi reportedly said itwill, however, continue as a sponsor, drawing a line between its activities as an official partner and as a journalistic institution.

If the Asahi genuinely believes that the Olympic Games should be canceled, why does the paper not withdraw its sponsorship from the games? As a media company, the Asahi argues that it is drawing a line between its journalism and business interests. But given that sponsorships are something more than just mere business ties, in this case the Asahi appears to be trying to have it both ways.

That said, there may be other reasons behind its editorial. In the past few weeks, some local newspapers in Japan have also written similar editorials calling for the cancellation of the games. One possibility is that the Asahi’s editorial, which was published on Wednesday, could have been the product of a long and fierce battle among the members of its editorial board.

In fact, the Asahi’s editorial urged Suga to make a decision on the cancellation of the Tokyo Olympics, although the paper is aware that the authority to cancel the games belongs to the International Olympic Committee.

This raises the question as to whether its position is motivated by politics rather than journalism. The current term for members of the House of Representatives expires on Oct. 21, and a general election must be called by this fall. Was the Asahi’s editorial part of a subtle attempt by the left-leaning paper to damage the LDP-led coalition and to help opposition parties?

The following are arguments being made by the Asahi: “We can’t see how it makes sense to hold the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo this summer. What is most important is the lives of the citizens.” “Come to think of it, what are the Olympic Games, after all? If the highly divisive Tokyo Olympics are staged without the public’s blessing, what will have been gained and lost?”

Many ordinary Japanese are tired and stressed, having had to wear face masks as part of their daily lives since March 2020 and maintain proper social distances. They have been so frustrated that they are psychologically not prepared to hold the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo this summer.

But this does not necessarily mean that all Japanese have lost confidence in the games.

Given the growing capability of the government to start controlling, if not containing, the COVID-19 pandemic, Tokyo should be able to handle the Olympics without exacerbating the spread of the virus in Japan. A narrative could even be framed that it is proof that the world is overcoming the disease.