‘Please applaud but don’t cheer’: Japan’s struggle to enjoy the Olympics

At the forefront of the Olympic Torch Relay came a convoy of sponsor trucks, yelling a J-Pop version of “When the Saints Go Marching In” and urging the crowd to lend their support. He was followed by a phalanx of policemen.

Then, just in case anyone was tempted to get excited or have some fun, there was a loudspeaker truck to alert them. “The torch relay will arrive in three minutes. Please applaud but do not encourage. Applaud but do not encourage! he urged.

When the torchbearer finally walked to the sidewalk in Iwaki town in Fukushima, few members of the modest crowd even bothered to applaud. Security officials, wearing sandwich panels to demand face masks and two meters of social distancing, monitored the silence with approval.

The start of the torch relay 119 days before the start of the Olympics marked a big step forward for the Tokyo games, sending a bold message that they would certainly move forward this summer after the Covid pandemic- 19 forced their postponement for one year.

But it also revealed the enigma of the organizers: The more they respond to public demands for the safety of Covid-19, the less left for anyone to benefit from it. Similar rules against cheers will apply to the games themselves.

In Fukushima Prefecture, where the start of the relay was to serve as global publicity for its reconstruction a decade after the tsunami and Tohoku nuclear disaster, much of the public seems to view the Olympics as an unpleasant obligation to fulfill.

“To tell the truth, I’m more on the side of thinking this shouldn’t go ahead, but for the Japanese economy, I kind of understand the need,” said Yoshihito Shimojo, who was out of his office. restaurant to watch the relay go by. through the town of Hirono.

“They don’t really have an answer to the Covid-19 problem,” he said. “It’s hard to see a good result.”

Across the road, Mieko Owada said she would like the games to continue. “Giving up the games would be like wasting four years,” she said.

Opinion polls show that about a third of the Japanese public want the Olympics to be canceled, a third want them to be delayed again and a third think they should take place this summer.

A demonstration Thursday against the Tokyo Olympic Games © Yuichi Yamazaki / Getty

There is broad support for the government ban on foreign spectators, even if that means the revival of tourism – supposedly one of the main benefits of hosting games – will fade away.

The Torch Relay’s “Big Start”, held at the J-Village National Football Training Complex, provided a glimpse of what Tokyo 2020 would be like. After years of serving as a base camp for the workers going to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the site is again used for football.

To prevent infection with Covid-19, the launch was closed to the public, with local schoolchildren and the Sandwich Man comedy duo performing in front of an audience of around 60 officials in costume. A great production and security team ensured that the event was well organized for TV.

As the games approach, organizers hope the public will forget a series of scandals, including allegations of corruption in the bidding process, ever-increasing costs and the Sexism This led to Yoshiro Mori’s resignation as head of Tokyo 2020.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the torch relay was an opportunity to show the public that the Olympics are on their way. “I hope the momentum builds across the country,” he said.

Seiko Hashimoto, the new president of Tokyo 2020, said the flame brought from Olympia to Greece continued to burn silently but strongly throughout his one-year wait. “This little flame did not give up hope, and like the cherry blossoms that are about to bloom, she was waiting for that day,” she said.

However, the threat of Covid-19 still hangs over the Games, as Japan struggles to get its vaccination campaign off the ground. Fully dependent on BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine supplies from Europe, Japan has inoculated less than 1% of its population.

New cases of the virus have started to rise again after Japan lifted the state of emergency in major cities across the country.

With the torch relay crisscrossing the country, organizers said they would consider alternative celebrations if areas returned to lockdown when they were supposed to be in transit. Shimane governor said he did don’t want the relay in his prefecture.

But although it’s just a matter of duty, Japan increasingly thinks the games will go on.

“No one would choose to host the games under these circumstances,” said Shozo Kanno, who runs a hotel in Soma town. “But I think Japan has no choice but to move forward.”

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