Tokyo Olympics: Asahi Shimbun’s editorial calls for games to be canceled

Asahi Shimbun accused Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of staging the Olympics “against the will of the public” in his editorial on Wednesday. The newspaper, the second largest in Japan in terms of circulation, is an official partner of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

“We don’t think it makes sense to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo this summer,” the newspaper’s editorial board wrote. “Mistrust and opposition to the ruling government, the Tokyo government and Olympic officials is widespread because they have not tried to address people’s doubts and concerns.”

But the company that owns the newspaper said the editorial was not a statement of its position, adding that it would continue its activities as an Olympic sponsor.

“When we signed the contract as an official partner with the Games Organizing Committee in January 2016, we promised to draw a line between our activities as an official partner and our reporting as a speech organization.” Asahi Shimbun said in a statement. “There will be no change in the fact that the Asahi Shimbun will report on events related to the Olympics from time to time and with a fair perspective.”

Asahi Shimbun is known as a leftist publication in Japan that often criticizes the ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party.

“We call on Prime Minister Suga to calmly and objectively assess the situation and decide to cancel the event this summer,” the newspaper added in its editorial.

The article was all the rage online in Japan and caught the attention of some prominent figures, including politicians.

“I think the editorial by Asahi Shimbun, who is an official Olympic sponsor, is serious,” tweeted Renho Saito, a prominent Japanese politician and member of the Constitutional Democratic Party, a major opposition party. “Let’s look at the movements of the other sponsors.”

The editorial reflects growing calls in Tokyo to reconsider hosting the Olympics this summer. Cases of Covid-19 have been increasing in Japan for months, raising questions about the safety of hosting a major international event. The Tokyo games are scheduled to start on July 23.

A handful of prominent business leaders have also expressed concerns about the event. This month, Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani told CNN Business that it would be a “suicide mission” for the country to host the games, adding that “the risk is too great”. He gave the Japanese government a score of “two out of 10” for its handling of the pandemic.

SoftBank (SFTBF) CEO Masayoshi Son said on Twitter a few days ago that now “more than 80% of the public (in Japan) want the Olympics to be canceled”. Son asked if the IOC “had the right to host the Games” and that there was much to be lost if the event resulted in the spread of mutant viral strains and loss of life in Japan.
Toyota (TM), one of the main sponsors of this year’s games, said earlier this month he was “concerned” about the public’s frustration directed at the athletes ahead of the show. Toyota is one of 15 global companies that make up the Olympic Partners program – the highest level of Olympic sponsorship.

Olympic organizers reaffirmed their belief that the games can be played safely. Dick Pound, the longest-serving member of the International Olympic Committee, told CNN this week that “none of the people involved in the planning and execution of the Games are considering a cancellation. It’s basically off the table.”

Asahi Shimbun is a national partner of Tokyo 2020, representing a different level of sponsorship than Toyota. It is a widely read newspaper in Japan, which sells around 5 million newspapers per day in 2020.

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