Tokyo’s Olympic Village was hit by a fourth coronavirus case on Monday and major sponsor Toyota said it would not run any Games-related TV ads as the event struggled for support just days before the opening ceremony.
A Czech beach volleyball player became the fourth case and the third infected athlete in the Village, where thousands of competitors are living in a biosecure “bubble.” Elsewhere, a teenage female gymnast became the first American athlete to test positive at the Games, with a teammate also isolating as a result. Neither was named.
The delayed 2020 Games will officially get under way on Friday in a near-empty Olympic Stadium, with Tokyo under a coronavirus state of emergency after a spike in cases.
The latest Asahi Shimbun newspaper poll found a majority of respondents, 55 percent, were against holding the Games this summer, with 33 percent in favor. And a composer for the opening ceremony stepped down after admitting bullying disabled schoolmates, comments that caused an outcry in Japan.
It has not been a smooth final build-up for the Games, which were postponed last year, but officials will hope the tide of public opinion turns when the sports programme starts.
In a sign of the current sentiment Toyota, the world’s biggest automaker, said it would not run Olympics-related TV ads, and its executives would not be present at the opening ceremony.
“Toyota officials will not attend the opening ceremony, and the chief reason behind it is there will be no spectators,” Toyota spokeswoman Shiori Hashimoto told AFP.
Fewer than 1,000 Olympic officials and VIPs including sponsors will be allowed to watch the opening ceremony on Friday, according to Japanese media.
Toyota’s operating officer Jun Nagata earlier told reporters it was becoming more difficult for the Olympics to strike a positive chord with the public.
“It is turning into an Olympics that cannot get understanding (from the public) in various ways,” Nagata told Japanese media.
‘Safe place to stay’
Organisers insisted the Village was safe despite the coronavirus diagnosis for Czech beach volleyball player Ondrej Perusic, which follows positive tests from two South African footballers and a video analyst.
Twenty-one members of the South African men’s football contingent are in isolation after being named as close contacts, disrupting preparations for their opening game on Thursday against Japan.
Tokyo 2020 spokesman Masa Takaya earlier said, before the latest cases came to light, that there had been 61 positive cases connected with the Games so far -- a tiny fraction of the thousands of tests carried out. “The IOC (International Olympic Committee) and Tokyo 2020 are absolutely clear that the Olympic Village is a safe place to stay,” Takaya said.
Brian McCloskey, chairman of the Independent Expert Panel advising the IOC, said a system of “filtering”—starting with athletes being tested before departure —was working. “The numbers we’re seeing are actually extremely low,” he said. “They’re probably lower than we expected, if anything.”
Athletes are tested daily at the Olympics, where they are also told to observe social distancing and wear masks unless they are competing, eating or sleeping. When asked about the risk of a cluster in the Village, McCloskey said: “All the measures that we have in place... will reduce the risk of spreading it.”
Composer Keigo Oyamada, known as Cornelius, is the latest in a string of departures from the Tokyo Olympic set-up, including former chief Yoshiro Mori, who stepped down over sexist comments.
After news of his involvement in the ceremony circulated online, interviews from the mid-1990s reemerged in which he discussed, without apparent remorse, his bullying of schoolmates with handicaps.
“I have become painfully aware that accepting the offer of my musical participation in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics lacked consideration to a lot of people,” he said. (AFP)
Banner photo by Behrouz Mehri/AFP