Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura outraged his Covid-aware compatriots by taking off his mask and bringing the medal of victorious softball pitcher Miu Goto to his mouth as the cameras were rolling. And all while standing in front of a sign that warns people to wash their hands and practice social distancing to prevent the virus from spreading.
“I saw the video and heard his teeth making a clicking noise,” Naohisa Takato, who won the gold medal in the 60-kilogram judo competition at the Tokyo Olympics, tweeted.
“I handle my medal very carefully so that it won’t get scratched. The fact that Goto maintained her composure and didn’t get angry was incredible. I would have cried.”
Biting medals to test for gold was a common jokey gesture among victorious athletes in the pre-Covid days, but it's frowned upon now especially as the number of cases has risen rapidly in Japan since the Olympics got underway July 23.
Japanese authorities were so alarmed a state of emergency was declared in Tokyo ahead of the Games, which banned all fans from the stands. And on Thursday, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government reported 5,042 new Covid cases, a record.
The Japanese public consistently opposed hosting the Games amid the pandemic, though sentiment has seemed to shift toward grudging acceptance as some see their worries that the Olympics would worsen the country's Covid crisis give way to joy at a growing medal count.
The Japanese women's softball team added both to the joy and the medal count when they blanked the United States in the final, 2-0, to win the gold medal.
But Kawamura's viral antics Wednesday brought renewed concerns about Covid for many.
Silver medal-winning Olympic fencer Yuki Ota also condemned Kawamura’s bite.
“Apart from showing a lack of respect for athletes, he bit it even though (athletes) are putting on medals themselves or on their teammates during medal ceremonies as part of infection prevention measures Sorry, I can’t understand it,” he said on Twitter.
Toyota Motor Corp., which is Japan’s biggest car company and one of Nagoya’s biggest employers, was also revolted. The company owns the Red Terriers softball team that Goto plays for and is a major Olympics sponsor.
“It is unfortunate that he was unable to feel admiration and respect for the athlete,” Toyota said in a statement Thursday. “And it is extremely regrettable that he was unable to give consideration to infection prevention.”
The mayor issued a televised apology after Toyota released its statement.
"I forgot my position as Nagoya mayor and acted in an extremely inappropriate way," Kawamura said. "I am fully aware that I should reflect on that."
His constituents also gave the mayor’s office an earful.
“How is this appropriate when we are being urged to take infection control measures?” one caller to the Nagoya municipal building said.