July 26, 2021

In Japan, the fear of an “Olympic variant”

The cardboard banners are a little tired, but the conviction of the opponents of the Tokyo Olympics remains anchored. Like every Friday for months, around thirty activists from Hangorin no kai (“Association of opposition to the Olympic Games”) andOkotowalink (“No thank you, no Olympics”) gathered on June 11 in front of the concrete mass of Harumi Island Triton Square which houses the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, a stone’s throw from the Olympic Village.

“Cancel the Olympics”, “Protect lives”, We read on the signs brandished by the demonstrators who face sixty police officers. “This system is completely perverted by money. There is nothing democratic ”, storm Yuka Ishibashi, a 30-year-old nurse.

“What can we do to stop them? asks artist and activist Misako Ichimura. There is a pandemic, an explosion in the number of homeless people because of the economic crisis, but the race for medals takes priority over people’s lives. “ Mme Ichimura has been demonstrating against the Olympics since 2013, when the then Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe (2012-2020), obtained the organization of the Games for Tokyo in 2020. They should take place from July 23 to August 8.

Read also Tokyo Olympics: in Japan, a petition submitted to the authorities to request the cancellation of the competition

The opposition to the holding of the Olympics is not new: whether we remember the violent repression of students hostile to the Olympic Games in Mexico in 1968 or fears of contamination by the Zika virus before those in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. To see this handful of activists, whose demonstrations are little media, one might think that the opposition is weak. It would be a mistake.

These demonstrators are only the visible part of an opposition which is expressed in petitions which gather more signatures – including from abroad – than expected by the organizers. It is found on signs « No Olympics » plastered on hospital window panes under great pressure because of the number of patients, and especially on social networks. It feeds on the discontent aroused by the attitude of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Suga government, deaf to the concerns of the population in the face of the evolution of the pandemic.

“Danger of an upsurge”

Japan had only 777,978 cases and 14,150 deaths on June 15. The fourth wave of contaminations seems to be receding thanks to the imposition of a “state of emergency” – a series of recommendations to be closed earlier and to limit travel – but only 12.6% of the population received a first dose vaccine. For weeks, polls have shown that the majority of Japanese are opposed to the arrival of 90,000 athletes and officials expected in the Archipelago from all over the world before the opening on July 23. They fear a resurgence of contaminations, or even the emergence of a new “Olympic” variant.

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