Amid opposition, Japan PM says has "never put Olympics first"
People who are against the Tokyo 2020 Olympics set to open in July, march around Tokyo's National Stadium during an anti-Olympics demonstration Sunday, May 9, 2021, (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Published Sunday, May 9, 2021 10:56PM EDT
TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Monday that he has never "put the Olympics first," the same day an opinion poll showed nearly 60 per cent of people in Japan want the Olympics cancelled less than three months before they begin.
Japan has extended a state of emergency in Tokyo until the end of May and is struggling to contain a surge in COVID-19 cases, raising further questions about whether the Games should go on. Its vaccination rate is the lowest among wealthy nations.
International Olympic officials, Tokyo planners and Suga himself have insisted the Games will go on in "a safe and secure" way. Foreign spectators have been barred and planners issued an elaborate playbook of rules last month aimed at preventing coronavirus infections.
But a public opinion survey, conducted from May 7-9 by the Yomiuri Shimbun daily, showed 59 per cent wanted the Games cancelled as opposed to 39 per cent who said they should be held. "Postponement" was not offered as an option.
Another poll conducted at the weekend by TBS News found 65 per centwanted the Games canceled or postponed again, with 37 per cent voting to scrap the event altogether and 28 per cent calling for another delay.
Asked in a parliamentary committee meeting whether the Games will continue even if COVID-19 infections spike, Suga replied: "I've never put Olympics first."
"My priority has been to protect the lives and health of the Japanese population. We must first prevent the spread of the virus," he added.
He repeated that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has the final say on the fate of the Games and that the government's role is to take steps so they can be held safely.
The TBS survey found that Suga's public approval rate was at 40 per cent, close to record lows marked earlier this year.
Top Olympic official John Coates said on Saturday that while Japanese sentiment about the Games "was a concern" he could foresee no scenario under which the sporting extravaganza would not go ahead.
On Sunday, Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka said that even though she has waited her whole life to take part in the Olympics, the risks of holding the Tokyo Games should be carefully discussed.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies and Leika Kihara; Editing by Peter Rutherford and Michael Perry )