Tokyo Olympics woes build and the games haven't even opened yet

(AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

The Tokyo Olympics have not even opened yet but the controversies continue to mount. The opening ceremony will be held Friday. There will not be any fans present for the opening ceremony or in nearly all of the event venues. Toyota, a major sponsor, will not air any Olympics-themed ads. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has canceled his trip to Tokyo as a summit was being arranged with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga during the Olympics. The latest news is that an American female gymnast has tested positive for COVID-19.

Two South African soccer players became the first athletes inside the Olympic Village to test positive. A female American tennis star, 17-year-old Coco Gauff announced Sunday she will withdraw from the Olympics due to a positive COVID-19 test result. The female gymnast hasn’t been named yet and another member of the Team USA gymnastics squad has been placed on standby after being identified as a close contact. The team is training in Narita, about 35 miles east of Tokyo. The gymnasts arrived in Japan Thursday and have not entered Toyko yet.

The reason given for banning fans in the stands during the summer Olympics was to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A recent poll taken by an Asahi newspaper found that 68% of people have doubts that the organizers will be able to control COVID-19 infections among the athletes. The games were completely canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic and the Japanese planning committee has been eager to do it this year.

Toyota, a major sponsor of the Olympics, will not be running any Olympics-themed ads during the games but will stick with their normal ads. A company representative, Hideaki Honma, said that no Olympics-inspired ads had been prepared. Honma confirmed that Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda will not be attending the opening ceremony. The decision was made to show support for the fans who aren’t allowed to be there. “We wanted to refrain from attending while people who were looking forward to the event cannot go now.”

Business leaders are hesitant to attend the Olympics during the pandemic and question the wisdom of holding them this year.

Some business leaders have also spoken out amid the controversy. In May, Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani told CNN Business that it would be a “suicide mission” for the country to host the Games this summer.

Asked about Toyota’s decision during a press conference Monday, Tokyo 2020 spokesman Masa Takaya said he “wasn’t aware” of the news.

But he acknowledged that Olympic sponsors “must have been struggling to support” the Games this year, particularly amid “mixed public sentiment.”

“In that respect, there must be a decision by each company in terms of … how they should be able to convey their messages to public audiences from [their] own corporate [perspectives],” he told reporters.

Other global brands like Coca-Cola, Samsung, and Visa are sponsors.

On top of all these latest developments, South Korean President Moon Jae-in confirmed today that his trip to Tokyo has been canceled. Arrangements were being made to hold a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Suga but a top Japanese diplomat ridiculed plans for the summit during the games. The diplomat’s insult proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The two governments have had “meaningful discussions on ways to move forward in pending history-related issues and on future-oriented cooperation”, Moon’s top aide for public affairs, Park Soo-hyun, said in a statement.

Although the consultations produced a “significant level” of mutual understanding, the extent of the progress was deemed “still insufficient” in securing substantial achievements at the summit talks, Park said.

He added that “various other situations” had been considered in making the decision.

Earlier in the day, a senior Blue House official cited an “obstacle” that emerged in the last phase of preparatory talks, apparently referring to crude remarks made by a senior Japanese diplomat in Seoul about Moon’s attempt to organise a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

Hirohisa Soma, the deputy head of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, reportedly ridiculed Moon’s chances of holding a meeting with Suga during the Games, accusing the South Korean president of “masturbating”.

Well, that’s not good. The crack certainly wasn’t diplomatic. Needless to say, the Japanese ambassador was called in for a meeting with South Korea’s First Vice-Foreign Minister as he lodged a protest over the “undiplomatic and rude” remarks. South Korea’s First Vice-Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun summoned Japanese ambassador Koichi Aiboshi to the foreign ministry to express its “grave” regret and lodge a protest over Soma’s “undiplomatic and rude” remarks. A top Japanese government spokesman said the diplomat will be re-assigned.

The summit wasn’t popular with South Koreans anyway. Two out of three South Koreans did not support Moon traveling to Tokyo for the opening ceremony. Moon made it clear his visit was conditional on securing an extended summit with Suga. Japanese media, however, report that Suga only plans to meet with leaders who attend the opening ceremony for about 15 minutes each.

The Japanese public isn’t showing much enthusiasm for the country holding the Olympic games. They are concerned about the spread of the coronavirus. The Toyota CEO acknowledged as much. “The Olympics is becoming an event that has not gained the public’s understanding.” Still, big bucks were spent on sponsorships.

Originally, Toyota had planned to run TV ads in Japan showcasing the Olympic athletes the company sponsors. It’s now being speculated that other business leaders in Japan, which collectively spent more than $3 billion to sponsor the Olympics in Tokyo, will also want to distance themselves from the event. The sponsorship total this year is said to be the largest contribution ever from an Olympic host nation.

Vaccine numbers are still low in Japan, where just more than one fifth of the population is fully vaccinated against Covid.

It’s a shame for the athletes and their families and friends who have supported them throughout their years of training to not be able to participate in live events. It’s also unfortunate that athletes traveled to Japan only to test positive for the virus that the Japanese are trying to prevent from spreading.