Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama has become the latest Japanese star to express doubts about this summer’s Olympics, saying he has “mixed feelings” about holding the event as Japan experiences a surge in coronavirus cases.
Matsuyama’s comments come after tennis star Naomi Osaka said she was “not really sure” the pandemic-postponed Tokyo Games should go ahead. Fellow tennis star Kei Nishikori also said there should be a discussion on the wisdom of staging the event.
Speaking before the U.S. PGA Byron Nelson tournament, Matsuyama said he wanted to “aim for the gold” in Tokyo, but admitted he had mixed feelings.
“I don’t know what to say,” Matsuyama said. “If it can really be held safely, I’d like to aim for the gold medal. But there are a rising number of infections in Japan and it’s in a bad situation.
“For some people it’s only once every four years … I want those people to be able to participate, but when you look at the situation Japan is in, I have mixed feelings.”
Organizers insist the games can be held, and have released playbook guides they say will ensure the safety of participants and the Japanese public.
On Wednesday, they pointed to a string of test events that have recently been held successfully in Tokyo and elsewhere despite parts of the country — including the capital — being under a state of emergency.
“More than 700 athletes and over 6,000 related staff participated in the four test events,” organizers said, saying only one virus case was detected, in a diving coach who tested positive on arrival.
In a potential boost for organizers, Japanese athletes will now be vaccinated before the games, local media reported on Wednesday.
Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto did not directly confirm the reports late on Wednesday, but said vaccines for athletes would be from a “separate allocation” than for the general public.
“In Japan’s case, the progress of the vaccination program for citizens has been unsatisfactory, so many people are upset because they feel athletes are being given priority,” she told reporters.
Japan’s vaccine rollout is so far moving slowly, with no timeframe yet for expanding vaccinations beyond medical workers and the elderly.
Polls show a majority of Japanese oppose holding the games this year, and the virus emergency in parts of the country has forced the torch relay, which kicked off in March — to be held behind closed doors in several areas.
Reflecting the ambivalent mood, an official at Toyota, a top Olympic sponsor, said the firm was concerned about the situation.
“We are anxiously thinking every day about what is the best way,” Toyota’s chief communication officer Jun Nagata told reporters on Wednesday.
“The spirit of the Olympics and Paralympics … is based on the premise that athletes as well as people in Japan are in a safe environment,” he said.
“Part of Japanese people’s frustration has been directed at athletes, probably because of worries over medicine. We as a sponsor really regret that.”
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