Japan, June 4 (Reuters) – A Japanese Olympic Committee board member on Friday blasted organisers of the Tokyo Games for ignoring public concerns about holding the global sporting showpiece amid a pandemic, but said it was too late to cancel.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) appeared to think it could steamroll over the wishes of the Japanese public, who, opinion polls show, overwhelmingly want the games cancelled or postponed, Kaori Yamaguchi said in an opinion piece carried by Japan’s Kyodo news agency.
Already postponed from last year because of the pandemic, a scaled-down version of the Games with no foreign spectators is set to start on July 23 despite public fears the event could drain medical resources and spread the coronavirus as Japan battles a fourth wave of infections.
Yamaguchi, a former Olympic medallist in judo, accused the Japanese government, the Tokyo 2020 organising committee and the IOC of “avoiding dialogue”.
“The IOC also seems to think that public opinion in Japan is not important,” she said.
“I believe we have already missed the opportunity to cancel … We have been cornered into a situation where we cannot even stop now. We are damned if we do, and damned if we do not.”
A series of comments by IOC officials, including one by IOC Vice President John Coates that the Olympics would be held even under a state of emergency such as is currently in place in Tokyo and other regions, have sparked outrage in Japan.
The Japanese government also says the Games can go ahead safely despite a slow vaccine rollout and rising numbers of severe coronavirus cases straining the medical system. The country has recorded nearly 750,000 cases and more than 13,000 deaths.
The nation’s most senior medical adviser said on Thursday that public health guidance, including his, was not reaching the IOC in charge of the event.
“We are now considering where we should give our advice,” Shigeru Omi told lawmakers. “If they want to hold (the Games), it’s our job to tell them what the risks are.”
Omi told lawmakers on Friday that he planned to issue the views of medical experts on holding the Tokyo Olympics by June 20, when the current state of emergency in Tokyo and other regions is set to end.
Seiko Hashimoto, head of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee, said on Thursday that it was important in such difficult times to bring a divided world together with the “power of sports”.