For many Japanese celebrities, the risks of taking part in the Tokyo Olympic torch relay appear to be outweighing the benefits, with many pouring cold water on the traditional pre-Olympics celebration.
Many have politely declined, citing scheduling conflicts, while others have said they want to avoid crowds, but it may just be that the Tokyo Olympics’ brand has been irreparably tainted by sexism and budget scandals as well as its possible coronavirus downsides.
Japanese comedian Atsushi Tamura withdrew last month after then-organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori suggested the games be held regardless of the pandemic and that celebrities should run through rice paddies to avoid spectators — gaffes that came even before he was forced to resign amid a storm of criticism over his sexist remarks.
The torch relay started Thursday with the coronavirus still weighing on the minds of many in Japan, with Tokyo only recently emerging from a two-and-a-half-month-long state of emergency.
The torch relay opened in Fukushima Prefecture and will traverse all of Japan’s 47 prefectures over 121 days.
Tamura was scheduled to run a relay segment in Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture, as one of some 10,000 torchbearers, many of which will be members of the public and about 600 prominent personalities.
It was later revealed that Rio Olympic judo champion Haruka Tachimoto, a torchbearer for a Toyama Prefecture leg, and teenage shogi sensation Sota Fujii, who was supposed to carry the flame in Aichi, both withdrew last year.
Japan international rugby star Yu Tamura, pop-rock idol band Tokio, enka singer Hiroshi Itsuki and actress Ryoko Hirosue have all canceled over “scheduling issues.” Figure skater Shoma Uno and Nordic combined skier Akito Watabe cited coronavirus restrictions, while actress Hitomi Kuroki pulled out over crowd concerns.
Paralympic swimmer Rina Akiyama withdrew earlier this month, saying she has doubts about the risks of holding the games during a pandemic.
When Tamura announced his decision on YouTube, he said celebrities should drop out of the torch relay if there is no need for crowd-pullers, nudging Japanese stars to be proactive in their decision about whether to contribute during a pandemic.
Nameko Shinsan, a manga artist and columnist, says influencers and others who rely on their public image are no longer considering association with the scandal-tainted 2020 Games attractive.
“There’ve been doubts about whether the games can happen, then there were derogatory comments about women (by Mori). For celebrities, there’s no merit in supporting the torch relay,” she said.
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