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The Japanese Olympic Committee plans to set up a special team tasked with patrolling social media accounts of athletes to shield them from any potential hateful comments during the Tokyo Games starting next month, an official familiar with the matter said Tuesday.

If realized, it will be the first time that the JOC has created such a unit for Japanese Olympians. The envisioned team is expected to consult with investigative authorities if it finds online comments are especially malicious, according to the official, who declined to be named as a formal announcement has not yet been made.

For the Olympics, set to begin July 23, the JOC plans to have about 580 Japanese athletes, the biggest number ever.

Posting hostile and defamatory messages targeting an individual on social media has become a major social issue in Japan and elsewhere in recent years.

Last year, Hana Kimura, a professional wrestler who was a cast member of the internationally popular Netflix reality show "Terrace House," killed herself in her apartment after being a target of cyber-bullying.

Swimming star Rikako Ikee, who this spring booked a spot in the Olympics after battling leukemia, revealed in early May that she had received messages on her social media accounts telling her to pull out of the games.

"It is very painful for an individual athlete to be hit by this (kind of anti-Olympic message)," she said on Twitter.

The Tokyo Olympics have not gained much support in Japan due to persisting concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. Some medical experts have openly criticized the decision to hold the Olympics and Paralympics, saying they can trigger a surge in COVID-19 cases.

At a news conference on Monday, JOC President Yasuhiro Yamashita called for people not to criticize athletes for choosing to compete at the Olympics.

The Summer Games were postponed last year due to the pandemic. A recent nationwide poll by Kyodo News found that around 86% of people in Japan are concerned about a rebound in COVID-19 cases if the games are staged this summer.

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