TOKYO – Three-time Olympic champion gymnast Kohei Uchimura wants the postponed Tokyo Olympics to happen next year. But he's also talked openly about the skepticism in Japan where enthusiasm is muted by health risks, billions of dollars in taxpayer bills, and questions why the Games are a priority amid a pandemic.
Polls over the last several months show Japanese — and Japanese companies — are divided about holding the Games, or doubtful they should be held at all.
“Unfortunately, 80% of the Japanese don’t believe that the Tokyo Olympics can take place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Uchimura said after a one-day exhibition gymnastics meet last weekend.
“I would like people to change their minds from: We can’t hold the Olympics to — how can we do it?”
Postponed 7 1/2 months ago, the Olympics have been rescheduled to open on July 23, 2021. Despite the public's ambivalence, the International Olympic Committee and Japanese organizers have unwavering support from Japan's ruling party and Tokyo's municipal government. The messaging is molded around the Games overcoming the odds — a heroic endeavor by Japan to lift global spirits, thanks to the Olympics.
Should Japan fail, Asian rival China would take the stage six months later with Beijing's Winter Olympics opening Feb. 4, 2022.
But there is a tiny murmur of resistance to the Olympic behemoth, particularly as the virus spikes around the world.
There are fears of letting 15,400 Olympic and Paralympic athletes enter Japan, joined by tens of thousand of officials, coaches, VIPs and media; not to mention the possibility of allowing foreign fans to attend.