It’s unfair, unkind to target athletes in debate on whether to host Games

As the spread of the novel coronavirus continues unabated, there are calls for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games to be canceled.

However, it is unreasonable to pressure athletes to withdraw from the Games or to point the finger of blame at them.

Rikako Ikee, who earned a place on the national team for the Tokyo Olympics in swimming, has reportedly received a series of such messages through social media.

Ikee, who has been battling leukemia, has become a symbol of the Games, sending a message to the world at an Olympic-related event held at the National Stadium in July of last year.

Did some of those who wanted the Games to be canceled think momentum for the event would be lost if Ikee withdrew from the Games?

On Twitter, Ikee expressed her understanding of calls for the cancellation of the Games, saying, “It’s inevitable and natural.” However, she also said, “I can’t change anything,” and revealed her feelings by saying, “It’s very painful to put that on an individual athlete.”

On social media, there are also defamatory comments against Ikee. It is no wonder that Olympic minister Tamayo Marukawa said, “This is unacceptable for any reason.” There are also other athletes who have been subjected to thoughtless comments over the hosting of the Games.

If people want the Games to be canceled, they should raise their voices to the central government or the Tokyo metropolitan government. Demanding that individual athletes who have worked hard to participate in the Games “withdraw” or “voice their opposition” is too harsh a request and lacks consideration.

The athletes should not be forcibly involved in the debate on whether to host the Games.

In general, social media content is highly anonymous, and words can easily spiral to extremes. The stress of the coronavirus pandemic and the fear of infection may be factors, but before posting anything, it is important to pause for a moment to consider whether the content is appropriate and whether it will hurt others.

According to a nationwide poll by The Yomiuri Shimbun, a 59% majority of respondents said they want the Games to be “canceled,” while only 39% said they want to “host” the Games, comprising those who support having either a “limited number of spectators” or “no spectators.”

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is eager to hold the Games, saying, “We will do our utmost to realize a safe and secure Games,” but he has not provided any concrete measures to make that happen. Behind the criticism directed at the athletes may be frustration toward the central government and the Tokyo metropolitan government for not providing sufficient explanations.

Will spectators be allowed, how will the safety of athletes and coaches be ensured, and how much progress will be made in vaccinations before the opening of the Games? The government needs to clarify these points as soon as possible and communicate them to the public and the athletes of each country.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 12, 2021.