HIROSHIMA: IOC President Thomas Bach got a mixed reception in his visit on Friday to Hiroshima to mark the first day of the so-called Olympic Truce.
Such a one-day visit by a dignitary would ordinarily be routine, but the Olympics are set to open next week with Tokyo under a state of emergency and with a substantial part of the population opposed to the Games being held during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bach's vice president John Coates also appeared Friday in Nagasaki, the second city that was hit by an American atomic bomb in 1945.
Bach and Coates have been meeting daily with Japanese officials from Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, repeating their message that the Olympics will be “safe and secure.” He was accompanied to Hiroshima by Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee.
The Olympics and Paralympic involve 15,400 athletes and tens of thousands of others entering Japan, including media, broadcasters, officials, and judges and others.
The Olympics, already delayed by 12 months because of the pandemic, will be held with virtually no fans. Fans from abroad were banned several months ago, and last week Tokyo and three neighbouring prefectures banned all local fans. A few outlying venues are expected to allow a smattering of fans.
Japan's Kyodo news agency reported earlier this week that Bach asked Suga about the possibility of having some fans if conditions improve.
New COVID-19 cases on Friday in Tokyo were reported at 1,271. They were 822 a week ago, and it marks the 27th straight day that cases were higher than a week previous. New cases on Thursday were reported at 1,308, which was the highest in six months.
Bach has said there is “zero” risk of athletes in the Olympic Village on Tokyo Bay passing on the virus to Japanese or other residents of the village.
A group of 11 anti-Olympic and pacifists groups submitted a letter to the city earlier this week opposing Bach's visit. Separately, an online petition opposing the visit garnered 70,000 signatures.
Bach laid a wreath and observed a minute of silence in the rain in front of the Peace Memorial Park cenotaph. Faint voices of protesters, who were kept at a distance, could be heard shouting “go home Bach” and “you’re not welcome here.”
Dozens of protesters were seen near the Atomic Bomb Dome with signs that read “Cancel The Olympics” and “No Bach.”
“You should understand you are not welcome here,” one protester said, speaking into a microphone.
“The COVID-19 situation is getting worse, it hasn’t come to an end, and I wonder why this has to go ahead," said Sayuri Yamada, who identified herself as a medical worker. She was not among the protesters.
She said she did not oppose Bach's visit, but raised questions about running unnecessary risks for the Olympics.
“It’s not that I don’t want him to come absolutely,” she said. “But rather, thinking about the safety of people, including the athletes, my opinion is like he doesn’t have to do this at a time when the risk is high.”
Takayoshi Kayano, who said he was an office worker, respected Bach's right to visit but raised other issues.
“I think it’s fine to host the Olympics. But the no-spectator policy is a bit disappointing,” he said. “But to me, I feel the IOC seems to be only focused on making money.”
The official cost of the Tokyo Olympics is $15.4 billion, although government auditors have suggested it’s much larger. All but $6.7 billion is public money.
As Bach was in Hiroshima, a Ugandan athlete was reported missing by local officials.
The 20-year-old man was training as part of the nine-member Ugandan team in Izumisano, Osaka prefecture, city officials said.
Teammates realized the athlete was absent around noon Friday when his saliva test sample was not delivered and they found his hotel room empty, city officials said. There was no training Friday morning and he was last seen in his room in the early hours of Friday.