Cheers and high-fives should be banned at the Tokyo Olympics due to Covid, with organizers considering testing and vaccine requirements for fans.
The Games have been dubbed a “suicide mission” by business leaders amid an ongoing public health crisis in Japan, with a glacial vaccine rollout and a fourth wave of Covid infections.
The state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas to contain the spread was extended until June 20 on Friday when the first athletes, the Australian women’s softball team, arrived in Japan.
Foreign spectators have already been banned and organizers are expected to make a decision next month about whether Japanese fans can attend.
A total ban would be a hammer blow to the big money sponsors such as Toyota, Bridgestone and Panasonic who have plowed millions into the Games expecting thousands of spectators to attend.
Australia’s women’s softball team arrives at Narita Airport in Japan on Tuesday – the first athletes to arrive for next month’s Games
Australian softball players arrive at the airport in Narita . on Tuesday
Australian softball players await antigen tests on arrival at Narita airport on Tuesday
Hiroshi Mikitani, CEO of e-commerce giant Rakuten, called the event a “suicide mission.”
Among other measures, such as banning loud cheers and high-fives, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper said the government is considering whether spectators should show a negative test result taken within a week of attending an Olympic event.
The Yomiuri report sparked thousands of social media posts criticizing the country’s continued pressure to host the Olympics in the midst of a pandemic.
The term “negative test certificate” was trending on Twitter in Japan, garnering more than 26,000 tweets on Monday afternoon.
“If you can’t eat, cheer or high-five, what’s the point in paying for a ticket and an expensive test?” one Twitter user asked, while others questioned the veracity of such tests.
In a poll published Monday by the Nikkei newspaper, more than 60% of respondents favored canceling or postponing the Games, a result in line with previous polls by other media outlets.
Public sentiment for the competition and a possible ban on spectators has made sponsors concerned about whether they will see their investments back.
About 60 Japanese companies put a record $3.3 billion into the event, which was postponed for a year due to the pandemic, and leading companies such as Toyota, Bridgestone and Panasonic have multi-year Olympic partnerships.
Toyota acknowledged the public’s “concern” last month, saying it was concerned that “some people’s frustration is focused on athletes.”
‘As a sponsor, we are really ashamed of that,’ says communications director Jun Nagata.
“We worry every day about what needs to be done.”
And as a sign of mounting unrest, the newspaper Asahi Shimbun – itself a sponsor of the Games – broke ranks last week to call for its cancellation.
In an editorial, the left-wing daily warned that Japan had no place to host the Olympics, given current infection levels and a slow vaccine rollout.
It also denounced the “complacent” leadership of the International Olympic Committee, which it said appeared committed to holding the Games at any cost, despite public concerns.
Local sponsors are now in a “very difficult” position, said Norm O’Reilly, director of the International Institute for Sport Business and Leadership at the University of Guelph.
“I would advise to stay focused on supporting the athletes,” he told AFP.
Organizers have made the unprecedented decision to ban foreign fans from the Games and will decide later this month how many local spectators will be allowed, if any.
While a closed-door Games would hit organizers with lost ticket sales, O’Reilly said major sponsors can still take advantage of the global audience.
“They are very focused on the billion-dollar global platform that will interact with the Games through television and streaming,” he said.
“People in most countries are desperate for an end to the pandemic and a return to a semblance of normal life,” he added.
People walk across the famous Shibuya crossing in Tokyo on Friday as the government announced that the state of emergency to contain the spread of Covid was extended until June 20
A truck warning of the danger of a Covid-19 pandemic drove through Tokyo on Friday as the government announced the state of emergency had been extended until June 20
“So from that perspective, I think there will be a lot of interest and following in the Games, and that’s what sponsors want and need.”
According to Taisuke Matsumoto, a lawyer and sports law specialist at Waseda University, smaller local sponsors could be the hardest hit.
Before the pandemic, many were running Olympic ads almost daily, “but they’ve stopped since last year because of customer sentiment,” he said.
Still, Matsumoto doesn’t expect a massive departure from local sponsors, as he sees Asahi’s editorial as “truly exceptional.”
Companies largely want to make sure they don’t shake things up and “do not individually oppose the Tokyo 2020 Games,” he said.
Local sponsors “see the public response and the risk,” added John Davis, a strategy, branding and sports expert who heads the consultancy Brand New View.
“I suspect sponsors are still trying to figure out how to convey the recognition of Covid-19 while communicating the inspiring sports stories,” he told AFP.
“It’s not an easy mix of messages to get to. But that doesn’t mean it should be avoided.’