• AFP-Jiji, Reuters

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Japanese tennis star Kei Nishikori on Monday said he agreed with compatriot Naomi Osaka that organizers have to “discuss” whether they can hold the delayed Tokyo Olympics safely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A virus state of emergency in Tokyo and other parts of the country was extended on Friday, less than three months before the delayed games are due to begin. There has been increasing pressure from the Japanese public to cancel the games, which have already been postponed once from the original dates last summer due to the pandemic.

Despite a smaller death toll than many countries, Japan’s vaccine rollout is moving slowly and some areas have seen record cases as more infectious variants drive fresh waves of contagion. More than 300,000 people have signed a online petition launched last week titled “Cancel the Tokyo Olympics to protect our lives” in a bid to sway the government and Olympic officials.

Osaka said on Sunday there “definitely should be a discussion” on whether the Olympics should go ahead. She has also said she is “not really sure” the games should go ahead. When asked if it was correct to host the games in the middle of a pandemic, the 23-year-old reigning U.S. and Australian women’s champion told the BBC, “to be honest, I’m not really sure” if they should be held as planned from July 23.

“I’m an athlete, and of course my immediate thought is that I want to play in the Olympics,” the four-time Grand Slam winner said at the Rome WTA tournament.

“But as a human, I would say we’re in a pandemic, and if people aren’t healthy, and if they’re not feeling safe, then it’s definitely a really big cause for concern.”

More than 10,000 athletes from 200 countries and regions are set to travel to Tokyo for the games, with a decision expected in June on how many domestic fans, if any at all, can attend.

Japan's Naomi Osaka said on Sunday there
Japan’s Naomi Osaka said on Sunday there “definitely should be a discussion” on whether the Tokyo Olympics should go ahead. | REUTERS

Former world No. 4 Nishikori said it could be difficult to host the Olympics even behind closed doors, due to the high number of athletes expected to take part.

“I don’t know what they are thinking, and I don’t know how much they are thinking about how they are gonna make (a) bubble, because this is not like 100 people like these tournaments,” he said after beating Fabio Fognini in the Italian Open first round.

“It’s 10,000 people in the village and playing tournaments. So I don’t think it’s easy, especially (with) what’s happening right now in Japan. It’s not doing good.”

Organizers have already said that foreign fans will not be allowed to travel to Japan for the games.

Nishikori missed last year’s U.S. Open after contracting coronavirus, while he also had to quarantine in a hotel for two weeks ahead of the 2021 Australian Open in February.

“If you think only about athletes, I think you can do it,” said the 31-year-old.

Nishikori, who won bronze in the men’s singles at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, added that there was still time before a decision had to be made but was wary about the potential for an outbreak in the Athletes Village.

“If you can make (a) good bubble, maybe you can do it, but there is some risk too. You know, what happens if there is a hundred cases in the village, or can be thousands?

“You have to really discuss, you know, how you can play really safely to happen.”

Several test events with foreign athletes have been successfully held, most recently on Sunday, but a visit by International Olympic Committee head Thomas Bach scheduled for May 17-18 has been canceled.

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