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Japan hit for undermining Olympic spirit

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Pandemic is critical factor overshadowing Summer Olympics

By Kim Sang-woo

Japan is under a state of emergency extended through June 20. The number of COVID-19 infection cases is coming down, but variants are still appearing in Tokyo.

The Tokyo Medical Practitioners' Association called for the cancellation of the Olympics. Kentaro Iwata, a doctor specializing in infectious diseases at Kobe University Hospital, stated, "… we are really fighting a life and death situation."

The Olympic torch relay has not inspired confidence as numerous people involved in the event have tested positive for COVID-19. Moreover, that only involves domestic participants and a fraction of the 11,000 Olympic athletes from over 200 countries plus tens of thousands more in support staff who are arriving in Japan.

Roughly 10,000 of the 80,000 volunteers scheduled to help at the Olympics and Paralympics have quit, in recent months, due to COVID-19 concerns, as well as sexist remarks made by the former Tokyo Olympics president earlier this year.

Many Japanese fear the Olympics will become a super-spreader event ― one prominent business leader even called the sports event a "suicide mission."

The very slow rate of vaccination in Japan is to blame, but recently, its much delayed vaccine roll-out is finally picking up. The average number of doses has now reached about 500,000 per day.

Approximately 15 percent of Japan's population has received at least one dose, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has called for up to 1 million doses to be administered nationwide each day after mid-June.

Opinion polls once showed up to 80 percent of Japanese people were opposed to the Games. Yet the level of opposition seems to be decreasing recently. On June 6, a Yomiuri Shimbun poll showed 50 percent agreed that the events should go ahead as scheduled in July, up from 39 percent in a similar survey in early May.

Nevertheless, a recent poll by the Yomiuri Shimbun still shows Prime Minister Suga and his government's approval rating falling from 43 percent to 37 percent, while the disapproval rating has gone up from 46 percent to 50 percent. The poll also showed 68 percent expressed dissatisfaction with the government's handling of the pandemic.

Even so, at the last general election, while only 25 percent of eligible voters chose the Liberal Democratic Party, they still won 60 percent of the seats in parliament.

Simply put, while public opinion matters, it is not decisive. The LDP has a long history of defying public opinion on major domestic issues and still winning re-election.

From Suga's perspective, domestic public opinion is just one factor in a complex equation, which includes contractual obligations to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and, perhaps most importantly, international prestige.

The next Olympics are the Winter Games in February 2022, hosted by regional rival China in Beijing which means that Japan is prepared to go to great lengths to make the Tokyo Games happen.

Moreover, Japan has seen economic stagnation for a long time as well as the tsunami and nuclear disaster at Fukushima, so the Games were intended as a symbolic revival of the country.

With just over five weeks to go before the opening ceremony, the IOC and the Tokyo organizers have said that the Games are on. So athletes, organizers, and everyone involved in the Games are operating as if they will go ahead as planned.

The IOC, which "owns" the Olympics, has the authority to cancel them, but said, "With or without COVID there is no plan B."

According to the Asahi Shimbun, Suga and the Japanese government are now in favor of large public attendance at the Games.

The scenario of a closed session which was said to be a realistic option would not be totally ruled out, but it doesn't seem likely. The final decision will not be made before June 20 at the earliest.

The decision will not be a simple one. It will depend on whether the state of emergency is lifted, on progress in the vaccination campaign, and also on the opinions of experts, most of whom are worried about the wellbeing of the tens of thousands of spectators possibly attending the Games.

Anything can happen from now until the opening ceremony on July 23. And if the pandemic suddenly turns bad, and cancellation becomes a real option, according to the host city contract, the risks and losses would fall with the local organizing committee, if Japan cancels unilaterally.

Hence, the realistic option is Japan and the IOC jointly cancelling the event, staying within the framework of their contract ― if the IOC has reasonable grounds to believe that the safety of participants in the Games would be seriously threatened or jeopardized for any reason whatsoever.

If that happens, insurance would come into play: The IOC, the local organizing committee and the various broadcasters and sponsors will all have insurance to cover most of the concrete costs.

Recently, Prime Minister Suga actively promoted the Tokyo Olympics at the G7 meeting in the United Kingdom, urging leaders to send their athletes to the games.

While it is understandable, it was not well received, at a time when the U.K., with more than 70 percent of its population receiving one dose of the vaccine, and about 40 percent receiving second doses, is seriously considering postponing the lifting of restrictions due to the increasing spread of a coronavirus variant.

Although the Japanese government's handling of the pandemic and vaccination campaign are showing signs of improvement, it does not even come close to that of the U.K., and yet, they are boldly forging ahead with the games which could be a high-risk gamble.

Those who fear the worst appear to think that, instead of a safe and successful Olympic Games, it could become a nightmare of global proportions where infections surge due to super-spreader events, while variants also come into the mix with people from all over the world attending the sports extravaganza.

However, the only thing possible for now is to pray that all of these worries are proven wrong. Amen.


Kim Sang-woo (swkim54@hotmail.com), a former lawmaker, is chairman of the East Asia Cultural Project. He is also a member of the board of directors at the Kim Dae-jung Peace Foundation.



Tokyo urged to delete Dokdo from torch relay map

By Yoon Kang-ro

If and when we understand each other and accept the facts, there will be no conflict, nor contention. The Dokdo issue perhaps could rather serve as a "bridge over the troubled waters" between Korea and Japan through the Tokyo Olympic Games slated for this summer. And Korea and Japan will hopefully become good neighbors.

It is my sincere wish that the Dokdo issue will serve that purpose between the two neighboring countries beyond short-sighted self-interest. I would like to call it a true sense of the Olympic values of "Excellence, Friendship and Respect." The Tokyo Olympics is not about Dokdo contention, but about a legacy of harmony, progress and world peace.

The Tokyo Olympics organizing committee is still under increasing public pressure in Japan as to whether to go ahead with the Games or otherwise due to COVID-19 pandemic. It is reported that the scheduled gala reception for VIP guests from various countries at the closing ceremonies of the Tokyo 2020 Games could be cancelled, despite being an excellent opportunity for Japan as the host country to make the best use of the occasion to promote and enhance its diplomatic prowess to the whole world.

In addition, 10,000 Olympic volunteers tendered their resignation. This is, indeed, a bad omen for an Olympic host country staging the global games. Under any circumstances, Japan has a solemn duty to respect an Olympics spirit free from political maneuvering, by no longer posting the map showing the route of the Olympic torch relay which includes Dokdo as a small dot above its Shimane Prefecture.

As soon as such a map appeared on the Tokyo Olympics official website, it prompted a protest in Korea, with some even calling even for an Olympic boycott. It is reported that quite recently Korea's Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Korean Sports and Olympic Committee sent an official letter to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), urging its "active mediation role" in this matter.

As expected, Tokyo has rejected requests from Korea to eliminate Dokdo from the Tokyo Olympics website. The map issue appeared to have particularly irritated the Korean public recalling that Dokdo was not shown on a flag of the Korean Peninsula when an inter-Korean delegation carried it at the opening ceremony for the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games in consideration of Japan.

As noted, Dokdo was removed from the Korea Unification Flag after Korea accepted an IOC request that followed a strong complaint from Japan. At that time the IOC asked the PyeongChang 2018 Organizing Committee to respect the guidelines on political neutrality which the IOC had set as its policy in relation to world political matters.

But for the Tokyo Summer Games, it does not seem to be the case of an equal application of political neutrality by the IOC in response to the request from Korea. Nevertheless, as of now, I do not want to call this a double standard by the IOC. In this context, I would like to give the IOC the benefit of doubt, because IOC President Thomas Bach is a proven world leader with balanced thought to pursue his policy of "Unity in Diversity," where applicable.

How to move the IOC to resolve Dokdo issue

The Olympics is the one and only tool to unite people beyond political differences. The Olympic Games have come a long way in society as a remedy to solve insolvable issues. As IOC President Bach once mentioned, "At this moment in time, no other event brings the entire world together in peace, like the Olympic Games. The Olympic Games are the best expression of our values in action."

The Olympic Games must be beyond all political tensions. They must not be a tool for political maneuvering. The Olympic Games must be seen as a stage for dialogue. They are a symbol of hope and for peace. This is the message the Olympic movement promotes. In this way, the Olympic Games can play an important part to promote friendship, peace and solidarity through sport in the post-coronavirus world.

Aristotle once said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." It is still unclear why while the IOC prohibits the use of the "Hakenkreuz," a symbol of Nazi Germany under Hitler, it tends to fail to notice using cheering equipment for the Japanese team showcasing the symbolic design of a war crime from World War II, called the "Flag of the Rising Sun."

Should the Korean government decide to boycott the Olympics, the victims will evidently be Korean athletes who have prepared for the Tokyo Games for such a long time. However, under such unfair circumstances in relation to the Dokdo issue, it would also be difficult to insist that the Korean team should participate in the Games, because it would give an undue and wrong impression to the whole world as it might put more weight on Japan's claim to Dokdo as its territory.

In my opinion, it would be much more effective for two Korean IOC members to write a letter appealing to all their colleagues ― IOC members and International Federations heads as well as the global media ― in order to persuade them with the precedent set at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games. It would, then, move the IOC to interact with the global reaction in a fair and due direction.

As Winston Churchill once said, "Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference, and now this is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." At the same time, it reminds me of a Korean movie titled "It is not completely over until finally concluded."


Yoon Kang-ro, Ph.D., is president of the International Sport Diplomacy Institute.




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