Japanese Newspaper Sponsoring Tokyo Olympics Calls for Games' Cancellation

The Asahi Shimbun is the first major Japanese newspaper to join calls to cancel the Tokyo Olympics before they open in two months.

The typically liberal-leaning paper wrote an editorial Wednesday under the headline "We Demand PM Suga Decide Cancellation."

"We cannot think it's rational to host the Olympics in the city this summer," the editorial said.

"Distrust and backlash against the reckless national government, Tokyo government and stakeholders in the Olympics are nothing but escalating," it added. "We demand Prime Minister Suga to calmly evaluate the circumstances and decide the cancellation of the summer event."

Asahi, like many other newspapers in Japan, is a sponsor of the games. It has a morning circulation reported at 5.16 million and 1.55 million for its evening edition.

Asahi Shimbun newspapers
A stack of Asahi Shimbun newspapers are seen at a convenience store in Washington, DC, on August 6, 2019. On Wednesday, the newspaper joined calls for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to cancel the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games. ALASTAIR PIKE/AFP via Getty Images

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Despite the editorial, there is no indication the International Olympic Committee or local organizers have any plans to pull the plug on the games. But opposition is mounting with only a tiny percentage of Japanese people now vaccinated.

Tokyo organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto said Wednesday he was aware of the editorial, but offered little response.

Asahi is one of about 70 local Olympic sponsors that have chipped in almost $3.5 billion to the organizing committee budget. It is also one of a half dozen newspapers that are sponsors.

"Of course, different press organizations have different views. And that's very natural," Muto said, adding local partners, or sponsors, continued to offer "support."

Senior IOC member Richard Pound said in an interview with Japan's JiJi Press last week that the final deadline to call off the Olympics was still a month away.

"Before the end of June, you really need to know, yes or no," JiJi quoted Pound as saying.

The British Medical Journal called last month for a hard look at going forward with the Olympics. Local medical officials have also been skeptical, and billionaire businessman Masayoshi Son suggested over the weekend that the IOC was forcing the Olympics on Japan.

"Right now, more than 80 percent of the nation's people want the Olympics postponed or canceled," said Son, the founder and CEO of SoftBank Group Corp. who also owns the SoftBank Hawks baseball team.

"Who is forcing this to go ahead, and under what rights?" Son added.

Asahi also criticized the IOC, calling it "self-righteous" and also lambasted IOC vice president John Coates. Last week, Coates was asked if the Olympics would be held if a state of emergency were in force.

"Absolutely, yes," he replied.

The newspaper said there was a "huge gap" between Coates' words and the sentiments "of the people."

"Despite its overgrown size and excessive commercialism and many other problems, the Olympics have been supported because of empathy for its ideals. ... But what is the reality now?" Asahi asked.

On Tuesday, the Japanese government said a warning by the United States to avoid travel to Japan would have no impact on holding the Olympics.

Japan has officially spent $15.4 billion to organize the Olympics, and government audits suggest it might be much larger. The IOC gets billions from selling broadcast rights, which amounts to about 75 percent of its income.

Public opinion polls in Japan show between 60-80 percent want the Olympics canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and an online petition asking the games be canceled has gained 400,000 signatures in a few weeks.

Tokyo, Osaka and other regions of the country are under a state of emergency that is likely to be extended past its May 31 expiration.

Organizers and the IOC, often citing the authority of the World Health Organization, say the games can be held safely with 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes entering Japan, joined by tens of thousands of judges, officials, sponsors, broadcasters and media.

Fans from abroad have already been banned, and organizers are to announce next month if any fans at all will be allowed into Olympic venues.

Asahi Shimbun newspaper Japan
A security guard wearing a protective mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walks in front of the Olympic Rings on May 9, 2021, in Tokyo. The Japanese government was quick to respond on Tuesday, May 25, 2021 to U.S. travel warning for Americans against traveling to Japan and denied impact on Olympic participants, as the country determinedly prepare to host the postponed games in two months. Eugene Hoshiko/AP Photo