Tokyo Olympics: Thousands sign petition calling for Games to be cancelled

Showpiece event was rescheduled from 2020 and is set to begin in 11 weeks

Akiko Okamoto
Friday 07 May 2021 14:41
The Japanese capital Tokyo is set to host the rescheduled 2020 Olympics this summer
The Japanese capital Tokyo is set to host the rescheduled 2020 Olympics this summer

Over 230,000 people have signed a Japanese petition calling for the Tokyo Olympics to be called off in the two days since it was published online, as public concerns mount over holding the event amid the coronavirus pandemic.

With 11 weeks until the start of the Games – already postponed from 2020 due to Covid-19 – questions remain over how Tokyo can host the global gathering while keeping volunteers, athletes, officials and the Japanese public safe from the virus.

Organised by Kenji Utsunomiya, a lawyer who has run several times for Tokyo governor, the “Stop Tokyo Olympics” petition has gathered more than 230,000 signatures.

“Japanese people tend to not voice our opinions but there are many people now speaking up. Together with voices from overseas, I hope the Olympics will be cancelled for now,” he told Reuters.

Games organisers and the Japanese government have repeatedly said the event needs to go ahead, in part as a symbol of the world’s triumph over the pandemic, and detailed Covid-19 protocols have been unveiled for participants.

But with a fourth wave heaping pressure on Japan’s medical system amid a sluggish vaccination rate, Utsunomiya said he had received a call from an exhausted hospital worker on Friday morning, thanking him for pushing back against the Games.

Opinion polls have found a majority of the Japanese public is opposed to the Games, which are due to open on 23 July, and many in Tokyo were on Friday sceptical about whether they should go ahead, and wary about foreign visitors.

“It’s absurd that we are holding the Olympics under the Covid pandemic,” said Katsumi Abiko, the 79-year-old owner of a kimono shop.

“If we make the decision now to cancel it, Japan will be praised for making the right decision and be remembered by history.”

The government has extended a state of emergency in the capital and three other areas until the end of May.

Several other Tokyo residents shared Abiko’s concerns, including 84-year-old Yoshihiro Nagao, though he believes that, on balance, the Olympics should go ahead.

“It’s safer not to do it, but since we’ve come this far, we all want to work hand in hand and succeed,” he said.

In that spirit of cooperation, Pfizer Inc and its German partner BioNTech SE said on Thursday they had agreed to donate their vaccine to inoculate participants. 

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