Olympics 2021: Sponsor Toyota ‘conflicted’ as US team cancels Tokyo training camp amid Covid surge

Organisers remain committed to staging the Games this summer despite growing discontent from all corners

A general view of the Tokyo 2020 logo
A general view of the Tokyo 2020 logo

Organisers of the Tokyo Olympics remain committed to staging the Games this summer despite major sponsor Toyota revealing it is “conflicted” and the US athletics team cancelling their upcoming training camp in Japan.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) holds an executive board meeting today and Tokyo will be top of the agenda as the pandemic continues to grip Japan’s capital. The city is in a third state of emergency amid rising Covid cases, and protests against the Olympics are gathering pace. A new online petition calling for the Games to be cancelled has more than 300,000 signatures. 

On Wednesday Toyota’s operating officer, Jun Nagata, told an earnings briefing: “As sponsors it breaks our heart to see public discontent aimed at athletes. To be honest, we are conflicted every day over what the best corse of action is.”

Reports have also emerged that the US track and field team have cancelled their pre-Olympics training camp, due to take place just outside Tokyo in early July, due to concerns over the virus. The Games are scheduled to begin on 23 July. 

One of the key issues for Japan remains the slow rollout of its vaccine programme. Only 2.6 per cent of the country’s 126 million population have been vaccinated so far, and news that athletes and staff are being prioritised has caused widespread anger. 

The governor of the Ibaraki prefecture, which will host some football matches, has called for the Games to be postponed or cancelled if the pandemic worsens. “I don’t think we can gain the understanding of the international community, let alone Japan, if we were to host the Olympics in the midst of a medical collapse,” governor Kazuhiko Ooigawa said this week.

An article in the New York Times by academic and anti-Olympics campaigner Jules Boykoff on Wednesday called for the event to be cancelled. “It’s time to listen to science and halt the dangerous charade,” he said.

However the Japanese government and the IOC remain steadfast in their position. The IOC welcomed comments by the World Health Organisation (WHO) this week which praised the “extremely hard” work to make the Olympics safe.

“There’s been a tremendous amount of work done on the playbooks for the delegations and the teams that are coming, a lot of preparation amongst those teams regarding testing and quarantines and arrival and measures that have been taken in the Olympic villages, in the training facilities and around the venues themselves,” the WHO’s executive director of health emergencies, Michael Ryan, said.

“Then there is the matter of attendance within the facilities themselves and I believe the Japanese authorities and the IOC still have not made final decisions regarding the level of attendance at those venues because of the variations in the incidence situation in Japan itself. We will leave it to the authorities in Japan, who are highly competent, to decide what level of attendance could occur in the Olympics.”

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