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Rugby World Cup 2019

Rugby World Cup boycott? – Japan’s whaling return sparks rumblings of protests, with Tokyo Olympics also under threat

  • Activists urge the world to put pressure on Japan by threatening to boycott its two biggest events
  • Japan will resume commercial whaling in 2019 after 30 years of abiding by international rules
PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 December, 2018, 7:59pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 December, 2018, 10:18pm

Activists are expecting calls for a boycott of Japan’s two biggest international sporting events – the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games – because of the country’s controversial decision to resume commercial whaling.

Notable figures such as British endurance swimmer and ocean conservationist Lewis Pugh and Dennis Hone – the man who helped deliver the 2012 Olympic Games in London – said Japan’s decision to leave the International Whaling Commission (IWC) may result in protests around the world.

Others on social media vowed to boycott both events and urged fans to follow suit.

“I suspect that with the Rugby World Cup being hosted in Japan next year, and the Olympic Games in 2020, they will now face even greater international and domestic pressure to stop whaling,” wrote Pugh, known as the “Edmund Hillary of swimming”.

Japan said it would defy the 1986 global ban on commercial whaling and its fleet would start operations in July 2019, two months before the Rugby World Cup kicks off.

The government’s chief spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, said hunts would be confined to Japanese territorial waters. Japan was to inform the IWC by Monday, allowing the country to leave the body by June 30.

The South China Morning Post sought reaction from the Japan Rugby Football Union on the possibility of countries boycotting the September 20 to November 2 tournament but the body had yet to respond.

Hone, chief executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority before the 2012 Games and then head of the London Development Legacy Corporation, wrote on Twitter that Japan’s whaling decision may impact on sponsors.

He wrote: “Japan has a rugby World Cup in 2019 and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Will these get impacted? How will sponsors react? Or is commercial whaling not going to be a cause of protest?”

Japan has long insisted that whaling was part of its cultural heritage, even though it signed up to the commercial hunting ban in 1986.

Even then, the Japan government exploited a IWC loophole that allowed whaling for scientific research in the Southern Ocean – angering New Zealand and Australia who see the region as a sanctuary.

The Japanese, however, said it would halt Southern Ocean expeditions as it resumes full-scale whaling off its coast, in the hope of easing the impact of its decision to leave the IWC.

“What this provides is a face-saving way out of high-seas whaling. And it is difficult to see that as anything other than good news for whales and the commission established to manage and conserve them,” Patrick Ramage, programme director for marine conservation at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, was quoted as saying.

However, that was no solace for many social media users who have vowed to boycott the Rugby World Cup next year.

“My heart is broken in two ways,” wrote @MRrugbyworldcup. “1 because of what Japan want to do white whaling and 2 me missing my 8th RWC if the[y] do go ahead with Whaling.”

Another Twitter user, @miningsales, said the decision was “barbaric”, writing: “So, Japan has started commercial whaling. I was going to go to the Rugby WC. Won’t be going now. Don’t want to spend my money in a country that supports whaling.”

Adrian Slabbert was hoping players would protest at Japan’s move.

“Wonder if any of the players at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan will wear some sort of anti-whaling paraphernalia. Big events do attract protests in some form or another.”

British politician Richard Udall, a councillor for Worcester-St John, said: “Japan confirms it will quit IWC to resume commercial whaling. A very foolish thing to do in Rugby World Cup year.”