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Protests continue to rage over Japan's hosting of the 2020 Olympic Games. Protestors want the sporting spectacle called off, while medical groups have also voiced their concerns. Illustration: SCMP / Henry Wong

Tokyo 2020 Olympics: ‘never too late’ to cancel say protesters as hundreds plan anti-Games rally with a month to go

  • An alliance of 15 groups, including ‘Cancel the 2020 Olympic Disaster’, plan to protest against the Games in Tokyo on Wednesday
  • They want the sporting spectacle called off. Medical groups have also voiced their concerns about holding it amid the coronavirus pandemic
With just 30 days to go before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics officially open, organisers are confident that nothing can stop the Games from going ahead. But even with the finish line of the opening ceremony in sight, not everyone in Japan agrees.

“It’s never too late to call the Olympics off,” insists Jun Oenoki, a leading member of the “Cancel the 2020 Olympic Disaster” group. “They should be cancelled. It really is as simple as that.”

Oenoki’s group is one of several set up after the International Olympic Committee announced Tokyo as the host of the 2020 Games back in 2013, whose members are furious that organisers are seemingly ignoring deep-rooted public concern about the event and arrogantly insisting it cannot be cancelled.

Protesters carry banners calling for the Olympics to be cancelled at a march held in Tokyo earlier this month. Photo: Reuters

An alliance of 15 such groups plan to hold a large protest from 6pm on Wednesday – a month before the opening ceremony is expected to take place – outside the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building in the capital’s Shinjuku district, where they will display their home-made banners condemning the Games and listen to speakers denouncing the decision to go ahead.

Hundreds of protesters are then set to march to the square in front of Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station to continue to voice their opposition.

Oenoki said that while most Japanese were elated when Tokyo was announced as host of the 2020 Games, he and many friends greeted the news with groans.

He referenced numerous examples in recent Olympic history of how hosting the Games went from being an honour into a financial, ecological and political burden for cities. And that was before the world was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I have always felt that it would be a mistake to use taxpayers’ money for the benefit of large corporations and those in power,” said Oenoki, a professor of communication studies at Tokyo Keizai University.

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Cancel the 2020 Olympic Disaster has issued a 58-page booklet listing 20 reasons why the Olympics should not go ahead, ranging from the unrealistic original cost estimates – a prediction that has proved to be accurate – to bribery linked to the vote and subsequent construction contracts, the exploitation of volunteers, the eviction of people living close to venue sites, and the destruction of forests across Asia for the raw materials required to build venues.

The group further accuses the organisers of using the Games to “hide the truth” of the scale and impact of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima “under the mantra of the ‘Recovery Olympics’”.

Oenoki said every one of the 20 reasons should be enough to stop the Games in their tracks, but these were completely overshadowed by the pandemic.

“I am deeply worried about the coronavirus, what could happen here in a worst-case scenario, and I can only see more danger if the Games do go ahead,” he said.

Tokyo's new National Stadium, the main venue of the Olympics and Paralympics. Photo: Kyodo

Misa Ichimura, an artist and member of an allied organisation called Anti-Olympic Games, described the decision to grant Tokyo the 2020 Games as “sad”.

“That is because the Olympics and Paralympics have led to the expulsion of the poor and the destruction of communities in every previous host city,” she said. “I was immediately worried that the choice of Tokyo would cause similar problems.

Her opposition to the Games has only hardened since the pandemic broke out. “It is ridiculous to hold a huge event like an Olympic Games in a situation such as this,” she said.

Protest groups have dismissed recent news reports citing opinion polls that suggest public opposition to the Games may be waning. “Nothing that we are hearing tells me that opposition to the Games has fallen nearly that much,” said Oenoki of Cancel the 2020 Olympic Disaster. “I guess it may be possible that some people are changing their minds, but that is only because of all the positive propaganda they are being fed by the government and the organisers.”

Japan accused of ‘massaging’ coronavirus figures ahead of Tokyo Olympics

Before the coronavirus started spreading across Japan last year, opposition to Tokyo hosting the Olympics was limited and largely ignored by a public and media that were broadly behind the Games. But the health crisis changed that.

In an open letter published on May 17, the Tokyo Medical Practitioners’ Association pulled no punches in explaining why its 6,000 members believed the Games should not go ahead.

“Medical institutions that are treating coronavirus patients are already full,” it said, adding: “The highest priority now has to be the fight against the virus and protecting lives.” 

“If holding the Olympics serves to spread the virus and serves to increase the number of people who catch the illness and die, then Japan will not be able to avoid taking responsibility,” it said.

If they go ahead with the Olympics, then more people who could have been saved will die
Ayako Yano

Japan’s nurses have also voiced their opposition, especially after a request that the Japanese Nursing Association provide 500 volunteer nurses to work for free during the Games.

“People are dying because they cannot receive care,” said Ayako Yano, deputy secretary general of the 12,000-strong Aichi Medical, Nursing, Welfare and Labour Union.

“We have to put priority on protecting people’s lives and halting the spread of this virus, not on the Olympic Games.”

Yoko Tsukamoto, a professor of infection control at the Health Sciences University of Hokkaido, said many nurses have already left the profession because of the strain it has put on them, meaning that those who remain are having to put in many hours of overtime.

“We do not have enough medical staff and we certainly cannot afford to send any to Tokyo,” she said.

Members of the Aichi nursing union demonstrated outside the prefectural government offices earlier this month, with nurses on social media posting “We are not disposable pawns” and “Protect lives, not the Olympics.”

Yano said the nations’ nurses have “reached their limits” and need reinforcements.

“We cannot hold the Games this summer,” she said. “If they go ahead with the Olympics, then more people who could have been saved will die. Nothing is more important than saving lives.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: never too late to call games off: protesters