Tue. Nov 29th, 2022

TOKYO—Opposition to the Tokyo Olympics opening in two months has deepened in Japan and spread to some prominent business leaders despite organizers highlighting recent warm-up events as evidence that the Games can safely go ahead.

On Sunday,

Masayoshi Son,

the chief executive of technology investment company

SoftBank Group Corp.

, painted a scenario in which arriving athletes and officials triggered a new wave of infections with virus variants, leading to deaths, more emergency shutdowns and further shrinkage of Japan’s economy.

Canceling the Games might bring financial losses, but by holding them, Mr. Son wrote on Twitter,  “I think we’re going to lose something much bigger.”

Hiroshi Mikitani,

the chief executive of e-commerce company

Rakuten Group Inc.,

said in a recent interview with CNN that the Olympics were a “suicide mission.”

Olympic organizers say the event won’t be canceled. On Friday,

John Coates,

the head of the International Olympic Committee’s coordination commission for the Tokyo Olympics, said around 80% of athletes and officials were set to be vaccinated, and strict restrictions on movement would prevent contact with the public.

“I can say it’s now clearer than ever that these Games will be safe for everyone participating, and importantly safe for the people of Japan,” Mr. Coates said.

The Japanese are skeptical. Recent opinion polls show growing majorities opposed to the Games taking place. A mid-May survey by the Asahi newspaper found that 83% of people wanted the event to be canceled or postponed, up from 69% in April.

Concern about a spread of infection isn’t limited to Japan. A survey taken in neighboring South Korea on May 21 by polling company Realmeter showed that 78% of people were against the Tokyo Olympics taking place this year.

Mr. Coates pointed to a series of test events for the Olympics that have been held in Japan in recent months with no evidence of a spread of Covid-19. Some have included athletes from outside Japan, but most participants have been Japanese.

Behind Japan’s anxiety is a slow rollout of vaccines. Japan has just begun large-scale vaccination of its elderly population. Tokyo and several other major urban areas of Japan are under a state of emergency scheduled to last until the end of May and intended to drive down new virus cases.

Several test events for the Olympics have been held in Japan in recent months with no spread of Covid-19, some have argued.


issei kato/Reuters

Asked if the Olympics would take place during a state of emergency, Mr. Coates said: “The answer is absolutely yes.”

Potential virus risks at the Games include other groups coming from overseas such as dignitaries and media personnel. Organizers say the visitors’ movements will be restricted and all will face frequent testing.

Government spokesman

Katsunobu Kato

said on Monday that Olympic organizers “are setting up a solid system so that the holding of the Olympics will not result in infections domestically.”

Japanese Prime Minister

Yoshihide Suga

has also repeatedly stated that the Olympics will be safe but has suffered declines in his support. A poll taken by the Mainichi newspaper on May 22 gave Mr. Suga a 31% public approval rating, down nine percentage points from April.

On Monday, an adviser to Mr. Suga resigned after facing public criticism for tweeting that it would be laughable if the Olympics were canceled because of Japan’s relatively low levels of infection compared with the U.S., India and other countries.

Strong public opinion against the Games going ahead presents a dilemma for sponsors of the Games. At a news conference May 12,

Jun Nagata,

an executive at top-tier Olympic sponsor

Toyota Motor Corp.

, referred to cases of Japanese people directing their concerns about the safety of the Games at the athletes.

“As a sponsor, this is truly painful for us, and it distresses us every day thinking what to do about it,” he said.

Write to Alastair Gale at [email protected]

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By rahul