The International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach has reportedly cancelled his scheduled trip to Tokyo, which was announced in a statement made by the Olympic organizing committee on Monday.
The Tokyo 2020 organizing committee stated that Bach’s cancellation came after he decided that the trip would be too “tough” to make. The city of Tokyo is currently experiencing a rise in COVID cases, which led government officials to reinstate a state-of-emergency status for the city. Although the state-of-emergency was supposed to end on May 11th, Japan opted to extend the status until the end of the month.
Bach’s visit was planned to begin in Hiroshima, where he would meet the Olympic torch relay. After convening with the relay, it was likely that Bach would’ve made another trip over to Tokyo.
So far, neither Bach himself nor the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee has announced any rescheduled date for the visit. However, the organizing committee stated that another visit will likely take place, and that event will happen “as soon as possible.”
The cancellation has been reported as an “embarrassment” to the IOC by many news media outlets, as the Olympics will begin in roughly 10 weeks. Both the IOC and local organizers have held strongly to their position that the Olympics will not be cancelled, and will take place in a “safe and secure” manner.
Pushback against hosting the Olympics has ensued throughout Japan, including the recent creation of a petition calling for the cancellation of the Games. The petition gained 300,000 signatures over the course of three days. The sentiment reflected by the petition is reflected by public opinion, as 60-80% of Japanese citizens currently believe that the Olympics should be cancelled or at least postponed.
Beginning in March, COVID cases in Japan rose dramatically. On March 10th, there were 1,259 new cases discovered. Two months later, on May 10th, 4,857 new coronavirus cases were found. After a steady decline, COVID-related deaths have also begun to increase again. Towards the beginning of April, daily deaths totaled around 20, but as of May 10th, the seven-day average number of deaths was 77.
In Tokyo specifically, COVID cases have seen a similar spike, though less drastic than the country as a whole. COVID-related deaths in Tokyo seem to have remained relatively steady since the last spike in February, averaging just a few deaths per day.
Additionally, Japan’s vaccination rates are not meeting the same levels as many other developed countries. While 1.43 million Japanese citizens are now fully vaccinated, that number only accounts for about 1% of Japan’s total population.
The only country to pull out of the Olympics over COVID concerns so far remains North Korea. However, team Australia recently elected to skip the FINA Diving World Cup held in Tokyo over COVID precautions. The event was thought to be a trial run for the Olympics, as it was held at the new aquatics center built for the Games. The World Cup went smoothly, with only one COVID case being identified and contained upon arrival to the event.
A few notable Australian athletes spoke out against the World Cup being held during the current state of the pandemic in Japan, foreshadowing possible pushback from these athletes should the rise in cases continue. Diving Australia, who made the decision to pull their athletes out of the World Cup, held that their athletes would attend the Olympics in a few months after the number of vaccinations grows.