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Coates stirs up hornet's nest with latest push for Tokyo games


If John Coates was trying to stir controversy, he succeeded.

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An International Olympic Committee vice president, Coates was asked a few days ago by a Japanese reporter at an online news conference if the Tokyo Olympics would go ahead, even if a state of emergency were in force in Japan.

Coates replied: “Absolutely, yes.”

Coates said what the IOC and local organisers have been trying to persuade the Japanese public about for months: The postponed Olympics with 11,000 athletes from 200 nations and territories will open on July 23 and will be “safe and secure.”

But his defiant tone has stirred a backlash in Japan where 60-80 per cent in polls say they do not want the Olympics to open in two months in the midst of a pandemic.

Just over 12,000 deaths in Japan – good by global standards, but poor in Asia – have been attributed to COVID-19. But Tokyo and Osaka and several other areas are under a state of emergency until May 31. And it’s likely to be extended.

There is fear of new variants spreading with only a tiny percentage of Japanese vaccinated. Estimates range between 2 and 4 per cent.

“Right now, more than 80 per cent of the nation’s people want the Olympics postponed or cancelled,” Japanese billionaire businessman Masayoshi Son said over the weekend.

“Who is forcing this to go ahead, and under what rights?” Son added.

Technically, the Games belong to the International Olympic Committee and only it has the power to cancel. Of course, any move would have to be negotiated with Japanese organisers.

There is no suggestion this will happen.

Social media criticised Coates, and also went after IOC president Thomas Bach who has said repeatedly that everyone must “sacrifice” to pull off these Olympics, which have already banned fans from abroad. A decision on local fans attending – if any – will be made next month.

The IOC relies on selling television rights for 75 per cent of its income, and Japan has officially spent $US15.4 billion ($A19.92) to prepare the Games. Government audits suggest the figure is much higher. All but $US6.7 billion is public money.

The Shukan Post magazine said in its latest issue that organisers have booked all the rooms during the Olympics in at least four of Tokyo’s most expensive hotels. The magazine called the accommodations “fitting or royalty” for the IOC and others.

Many of Japan’s newspapers are among more than 60 local Olympic sponsors that have contributed more than $US3 billion to local organisers. They have been restrained in their criticism.

The Shinano Mainichi Shimbun, which is not a sponsor, called for a cancellation in an editorial on Sunday.

“We are in no mood to celebrate an event filled with fear and anxiety,” the newspaper said. “The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics should be cancelled… The government must make the decision to protect the lives and livelihood of the people.”


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