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Tokyo 2020 sponsor Toyota pulls Olympics TV ads in Japan as public support lags

Five days before the cauldron is lit, a new poll showed more evidence that the Japanese public opposes holding the Games in the country amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
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TOKYO — Toyota said Monday it will not be airing TV commercials in Japan related to the Tokyo Olympics and neither the carmaker’s president nor other top executives will be attending the opening ceremony this week, as the Games continue to face a skeptical Japanese public.

The announcement by Japan’s biggest automaker — and one of the Olympics' top sponsors — was yet another blow to the competition, which was derailed last year by the coronavirus pandemic and which kicks off Friday with Tokyo under a state of emergency because of a recent rise in new cases of Covid-19.

“It’s becoming an Olympics where a lot of things are not understood,” Toyota’s Chief Communications Officer Jun Nagata said Monday at a news conference with Japanese media.

Image: A banner advertising Coca-Cola beverages, Toyota, Nissay and NTT, Olympic Games partner for Tokyo 2020, in Fukushima prefecture
Toyota signed on as a worldwide Olympics sponsor in 2015, in an 8-year deal reportedly worth nearly $1 billion.Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters

The car company’s move was characterized by the local Kyodo News as an effort to “prevent its brand from being damaged as the Games are going ahead despite strong public opposition and fears of a further spread of coronavirus.”

Masa Takaya, a Tokyo 2020 spokesperson, said each sponsor must make its own decision on messages.

“There is a mixed public sentiment towards the Games," Takaya said, according to The Associated Press.

"I need to emphasize that those partners and companies have been very supportive to Tokyo 2020. They are passionate about making these Games happen.”

Toyota has provided 3,340 vehicles for transporting athletes and staff members and is still promoting the athletes it sponsors on its website.

NBC Universal, the parent company of NBC News, owns the U.S. broadcasting rights to the games.

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Five days before the cauldron will be lit and the Tokyo Olympics will officially get underway, a new poll released Monday showed more evidence that the Japanese public opposes holding the Games in the country amid the pandemic.

Fifty-five percent of those who took part in a survey published by Asahi Shimbun, one of the largest national daily newspapers, answered no when asked if the Games should be held this summer, and just 33 percent said yes.

The Tokyo organizers and the International Olympic Committee have been trying to drive home the message that the Olympics will be “safe and secure,” but 68 percent of respondents said they doubt that's possible.

And while some athletes are unsettled about competing with no fans in the stands, 76 percent of the poll participants said they supported the decision to bar spectators from venues and just 17 percent were opposed.

The results are largely in line with earlier polls that also showed broad opposition in Japan, but do suggest some softening as the Games approach from polls a few months ago that showed 60 to 80 percent of the public wanted them canceled or postponed.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has said he hopes the Japanese public will warm to the Games once competition begins and as Japanese athletes begin winning medals.

"We will continue to co-operate and work closely with organizers such as Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Tokyo 2020, and the IOC to ensure we have a safe and secure environment for the Games," a government spokesperson, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, said at a regular briefing Monday.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared the state of emergency this month, which effectively barred Japanese spectators from the Games.

Tokyo residents reached via text message by NBC News were unsparing in their criticism of staging the Games while in the midst of a pandemic. All were young people who asked to be identified either by their initials or just their first name.

The fact that Japan is pushing ahead with the Games is “honestly embarrassing,” said R.A., a 24-year-old temp worker.

“No one in my circle knows exactly when the Olympics are and to be spending so much money for something half the country doesn’t care about while on lockdown is stupid,” she said. “It’s probably a pride thing, but it would be much cooler to be the country that canceled a once-in-a-lifetime chance for the sake of humanity.”

Keigo, a 19-year-old student, expressed concern about rising cases in Tokyo and said that "having people from overseas could possibly allow a variant that didn’t exist in Japan."

Two South African soccer players became the first athletes to test positive for Covid-19 inside the Olympic Village on Sunday.

Teen tennis star Coco Gauff said Sunday she had also tested positive and will not compete.

“I’m against the Olympics because we haven’t even gotten the vaccine yet,” said R.O, a 29-year-old office worker.

Just 20 percent of Japan’s population is fully vaccinated, compared to the 48 percent who have gotten both shots in the United States, according to statistics compiled by Our World in Data.

K.A, a 22-year-old recent college graduate, said he was initially pleased that the Olympic Games were going to be held in Tokyo “but because of corona it turned out differently than I expected.”

“Well, since they’re doing it I’ll be watching it,” he said.