Tokyo Olympics Organizers Convene Gender Committee After Sexism Uproar
(Bloomberg) -- Japan announced plans to push ahead with a nationwide Olympic torch relay just as International Olympic Committee officials appeared to extend a deadline for deciding whether foreign fans could attend the Games, raising hopes that the delayed event will go ahead as scheduled as Covid-19 rates decline worldwide.
“We have to take the decision as late as possible but as early as needed,” Christophe Dubi, IOC Olympic Games executive director, said at a press conference on Wednesday in response to a question on when to decide if foreign spectators could attend the Games. “The end of April would be the right time.”
Dubi also indicated that decisions surrounding spectators could come in two stages -- one for foreign fans, and another for those already residing in Japan. Officials had previously indicated that a decision on foreign attendees would need to come sooner, with the end of March widely reported as one deadline, considering logistics such as ticketing and flights.
Officials in Tokyo will be hoping that declining coronavirus cases both in Japan and worldwide, in addition to a rollout of Covid-19 vaccines in many countries, mean they will be able to proceed with the Games in July as planned.
Japanese officials reacted with incredulity to reports earlier this year that the government had decided the Games could not take place. Organizers have continued to insist that the current knowledge of the coronavirus and the restart of other sporting leagues around the world point the way to hold a safe Games.
An outright cancellation of the event would be the worst possible outcome for the stakeholders, though organizers will hope to have spectators as Japan did with domestic sports events last year, even without foreign fans. Opinion surveys show little support among the nation’s public for holding the games.
Japan still has no decision made on when to reopen its borders, which have essentially been shut since new variants of the coronavirus became a concern. The Asahi reported Thursday that most of current measures would likely continue even after the current state of emergency for Tokyo and other major cities is lifted. Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said that a decision would be taken only after the emergency ends, which is likely to come no earlier than March 7.
The news appeared to stoke optimism over the Games among investors, with shares of Japanese advertising giant Dentsu Group Inc., the marketing agency for the games, rising as much as 6.1% to their highest since December 2019. Dentsu, which posted a $1.5 billion net loss last year, tumbled 19% in 2020.
The IOC comments came just hours before Japan announced that it was going ahead with a nationwide Olympic torch relay next month. In March 2020, the relay was called off at the last minute amid panic over the pandemic, hours before a decision was ultimately taken to push back the Summer Games to this year.
This time around, organizers are taking steps to prevent infection at the relay. They called on runners to refrain from dining with people during the two weeks before the event and to keep a daily record of their temperatures, while spectators are asked to wear masks and not cheer on the runners but instead applaud, according to guidelines from the Tokyo Organizing Committee released Thursday.
The torch relay is scheduled to kick off on March 25 in Fukushima and will last 121 days, covering all of Japan’s 47 prefectures and taking in 859 municipalities. Those who want to watch the relay should do so via an online streaming site as much as possible, the organizers said.
The measures come after the governor of Shimane prefecture, located in western Japan, earlier this month threatened to cancel local relay events unless the host city of Tokyo and the country’s government take more aggressive steps to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
That task was made more difficult after former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori resigned as the chief of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee following a global outcry over his sexist comments. Since the incident, more than 1,000 volunteers for the Games have withdrawn, national broadcaster NHK reported on Thursday. The Games’ organizers have created a committee on gender equality following the uproar.
“Gender equality and women’s empowerment is going to be something that is going to be promoted,” Organizing Committee President Seiko Hashimoto said at a Tokyo press conference on Wednesday night.
Hashimoto -- a former Olympic speed skater and track cyclist -- was named to the post earlier this month after Mori stepped down.
One of Hashimoto’s most pressing tasks will be winning back the confidence of sponsors. She also expects to organize a meeting with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and other officials.
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