The Tokyo Olympics should be postponed, according to a senior member of the Japan Olympic Committee, adding her voice to a growing chorus calling for Tokyo 2020 to be delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
‘It should be postponed under the current situation where athletes can’t be well prepared,’ Kaori Yamaguchi, a JOC executive board member, told the Nikkei daily in an interview published on Friday.
Yamaguchi, who won a bronze medal for judo at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, is the first JOC board member to call openly for a postponement of the Tokyo Games.
The coronavirus pandemic has killed nearly 10,000 globally and played havoc with the international sporting calendar, raising doubts about whether the Games can open as scheduled on July 24.
Taro Aso, the Japanese finance minister and former prime minister, has even gone so far as to call Tokyo 2020 the ‘cursed Olympics’.
Nonetheless, part of the preparations continued today as the Olympic flame arrived from Greece and was ceremonially lit by two athletes at an air force base.
Lighting the flame: Three-time Olympic gold medalists Saori Yoshida (left) and Tadahiro Nomura (right) light the cauldron during a ceremony at a Japanese air force base today
Arrival: The aircraft transporting the Olympic flame taxis after landing at the Matsushima Air Base today, with preparations continuing despite the coronavirus outbreak
The flame arrived at Japan Air Self-Defence Force’s Matsushima base this morning but no spectators were present for the ceremony.
‘We originally planned to have children here to welcome the flame. But, prioritising their safety, we’ve decided to do without them,’ Tokyo 2020 chief Yoshiro Mori said.
‘That was an agonising decision … We will do our utmost in preparing for a safe and secure event.’
Two Japanese Olympic greats, three-time gold medallists Saori Yoshida of wrestling and Tadahiro Nomura of judo, lit the Olympic cauldron on the tarmac today.
‘This is a tough time. I hope the torch relay will bring people vigour and hope,’ Yoshida said.
The flame will tour the Tohoku region hit by the tsunami and earthquake in 2011, in what the organizers call a ‘recovery flame’ tour before the official kick-off ceremony in Fukushima on March 26.
Organisers have urged the public not to crowd the relay route, cancelled many events along the way and have restricted public access to others. Runners and staff will have their temperature and health monitored, the organisers said.
They have scrapped qualifiers and scaled back some test events for the Olympics, while many countries have imposed travel bans.
The International Olympic Committee, which will take the final decision on whether to proceed as scheduled, has voiced its commitment to the Games going ahead.
JOC committee member Yamaguchi criticised the IOC stance, saying the body ‘is putting athletes at risk.’
‘By asking them to train under these conditions, the IOC is opening itself up the criticism that it is not putting athletes first,’ Yamaguchi said in her interview.
The two Japanese athletes hold up the Olympic flame on the steps of the aircraft today during the official lighting ceremony
There were plans for children to witness the lighting of the flame, but those plans were scrapped over coronavirus fears
Staff members of Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways and runway crew wave as they see off the ‘Tokyo 2020 Go’ aircraft after it delivered the flame today
‘Unlike other sporting events, the Olympics symbolise the ideal that sports bring about world peace,’ she said.
The Olympics should not be held ‘if people across the world can’t enjoy themselves,’ she said.
‘What I’m most scared of is that we force an opening and have people question the Olympics, asking, ‘Why only the Olympics’?’ she said.
She also urged the IOC to at least set a deadline for its final decision.
Yamaguchi said she plans to argue her position when the JOC meets Friday next week, the newspaper added.
The sporting calendar has largely been scrapped in the coming weeks, with football leagues, golf majors and the Formula One season all heavily affected.
Football authorities have also postponed the Euro 2020 tournament which was due to take place this summer.
A Japan Olympic Commitee member has added her voice to calls for the Tokyo Games to be postponed. Pictured, people walk past the Olympic rings in Shinjuku
Japanese officials have also insisted that the Olympics will go ahead as scheduled, fearing a huge financial loss if they are scrapped.
However, deputy PM Taro Aso acknowledged the fears when he spoke of a ‘cursed Olympics’ during a parliamentary committee meeting on Wednesday.
He pointed out how Japan had previously lost out on the 1940 Olympics because of World War II.
Suggesting a 40-year cycle of bad luck for the Games, he also mentioned how the 1980 Games in Moscow had been overshadowed by a political boycott.
‘It’s a problem that’s happened every 40 years – it’s the cursed Olympics – and that’s a fact,’ he said.