TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga admitted it has been a battle to promote the Tokyo Olympics to the individuals in his nation, lots of whom are fearful that the inflow of athletes from around the globe will gasoline the Covid-19 disaster.
However in an unique interview with NBC Information, he insisted the Summer season Olympics would open as deliberate Friday and be a hit ultimately.
“I believe that canceling the Video games could be very straightforward to do,” Suga informed NBC’s Keir Simmons earlier this week when requested if he ever thought-about pulling the plug on the sporting occasion that has already been delayed a 12 months by the pandemic and that polls proceed to point out many Japanese oppose. “What nervous me probably the most was that public opinion was so divided.”
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“However Japan made the bid and was awarded to be the host nation,” he mentioned. “And because the nation internet hosting the Video games, I imagine we should fulfill our obligation to the remainder of the world.”
Current polls, together with one printed this week by The Asahi Shimbun, a nationwide newspaper, have prompt that as a lot as 70 p.c of the Japanese public desires the Video games canceled or postponed amid a surge in Covid instances within the nation.
Whereas infections and dying charges are low in Japan in comparison with the USA, Suga declared a state of emergency earlier this month because the variety of new Covid instances started to rise. And on July 8, the organizers introduced that the Video games would happen with out spectators amid fears that the inflow of athletes, journalists and different guests would put Japanese individuals in danger.
Regardless of repeated assurances from Suga and different high Japanese officers that the Olympics can be “protected and safe,” already some 80 individuals concerned within the Video games — together with a half-dozen athletes — have examined constructive for Covid.
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Staging the world’s largest athletic competitors whereas within the midst of the Covid disaster is “troublesome,” he agreed, however mentioned the payoff for Japan will likely be big ultimately.
“As I discussed earlier than, over 4 billion individuals internationally will likely be watching these Olympic Video games,” Suga mentioned. “In that context, overcoming the hardship of the coronavirus and to have the ability to maintain the Video games, I believe there may be actual worth in that.”
(NBCUniversal, NBC Information’ mum or dad firm, paid $7.5 billion to increase its U.S. Olympics media rights till 2032. NBCUniversal is the Worldwide Olympic Committee’s largest single supply of revenue.)
Suga expressed delight that first girl Jill Biden was coming to the Video games.
“For Japan, our solely true ally is America,” he mentioned. “In that sense, by way of the impression, I’m extremely happy to have the primary girl come to Japan and need to welcome her warmly.”
Suga spoke as Japan’s vaccination program continues at a sluggish tempo. Simply 22.4 p.c of the individuals listed here are absolutely vaccinated, in response to the newest statistics. It has been capable of maintain the dying and illness toll down by protecting contaminated individuals overseas, and by insisting on masks and social distancing, and implementing strict quarantines of people that take a look at constructive.
The 72-year-old prime minister, the son of a strawberry farmer, grew nostalgic as he reminisced about watching the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
“I used to be a highschool scholar,” he mentioned. “On the time, I used to be moved by the achievement of Japan’s volleyball, gymnastics and marathon athletes in the course of the first Tokyo Olympics. The impression was so nice that these reminiscences from 50 years in the past nonetheless come flooding again to me.”
When Suga was pressed to foretell whether or not Japan will win extra medals than the U.S., he chuckled and mentioned, “I hadn’t thought of that.”
However ever the gracious host, the prime minister gave a diplomatic reply.
“We’re the internet hosting nation and the Japanese persons are fairly modest,” Suga mentioned. “Subsequently, we need to share the medals with everybody.”
Corky Siemaszko reported from Tokyo, and Laura Saravia reported from London.
Laura Saravia contributed.