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Tokyo Olympics hit by trifecta of discouraging news amid Covid fears

The already troubled Tokyo Games could be overshadowed by the pandemic and other discouraging headlines.
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TOKYO — They say bad luck comes in threes and for the Tokyo Olympics, the unlucky trifecta came Monday.

First, Toyota Motor Corp., the biggest car company in Japan, announced it was pulling its domestic television advertisements for the duration of the games. Then, a teenager who is an alternate member of the United States women’s gymnastics team tested positive for Covid. And finally, a Japanese musician who composed some of the score for Friday’s opening ceremony resigned after coming under fire for his past history as a bully.

And all of this happened as a new poll published by Asahi Shimbun, one of the largest national daily newspapers, reported that despite the best efforts by local organizers and the International Olympic Committee, much of the Japanese public continues to oppose the games.

People take photos of the Olympic Rings displayed by the Odaiba Marine Park Olympic venue ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on July 19, 2021.
People take photos of the Olympic Rings displayed by the Odaiba Marine Park Olympic venue ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on July 19, 2021.Toru Hanai / Getty Images

“There is a mixed public sentiment towards the Games,” Masa Takaya, a Tokyo Olympics spokesperson, said, according to The Associated Press.

Jeremy Fuchs, the author of a book about the history of the Olympics, said that it is important to remember that "there's never been an entirely happy Olympics," and the games are sometimes overshadowed by contentious debates about human rights, political gestures or excessive spending.

"But this much controversy I think is really unprecedented, and I think you'd be hard-pressed to find an example in history where citizens of a host country are this unhappy," he said.

Toyota nixes ads

Toyota isn’t just Japan’s biggest carmaker, but it’s also one of the Tokyo Games’ biggest benefactors and the supplier of thousands of vehicles that the athletes and organizers have been using to get around. But with much of the public opposed to the games because of fears that the arriving athletes and others could inflame the pandemic, Toyota decided to remove the ads it produced for its domestic audience.

Image: Demonstration of Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games transport operation support system, in Tokyo
A staff member uses a smartphone app for drivers to unlock a Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid vehicle during a demonstration of the transport operation support system for Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games personnel on July 1, 2021.Kiyoshi Ota / Pool via Reuters file

“It’s becoming an Olympics where a lot of things are not understood,” Jun Nagata, a spokesman for the car company, said and added that neither Toyota’s president nor other top executives will be attending the opening ceremony.

Asked about Toyota’s decision, Takaya said: “I need to emphasize that those partners and companies have been very supporting to Tokyo 2020. There are passionate about making these Games happen."

Gymnast, tennis star grounded by Covid

Gymnastics are a marquee Olympic event and the U.S. women's team members are a top draw. So word that a gymnast had tested positive quickly dominated the headlines.

“We can confirm that an alternate on the women’s artistic gymnastics team tested positive for Covid-19,” the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee said in a brief statement. “In alignment with local rules and protocols, the athlete has been transferred to a hotel to quarantine.”

The alternate, Kara Eaker, tested positive at a training camp, her coach told The Associated Press.

Kara Eaker during Day 2 of the 2021 U.S. Women's Gymnastics Olympic Team Trials at the Dome at America's Center in St. Louis, Mo., on June 27, 2021.
Kara Eaker during Day 2 of the 2021 U.S. Women's Gymnastics Olympic Team Trials at the Dome at America's Center in St. Louis, Mo., on June 27, 2021.Amy Sanderson / Cal Sport Media via AP Images file

Even more worrisome, another teammate who had been in “close contact” with Eaker had been placed “on standby,” the authorities said.

In a separate development, the teenage tennis player Cori "Coco" Gauff announced Sunday that she has tested positive for Covid and will not compete in the Tokyo Olympics, where she was expected to lead Team USA.

"I am so disappointed to share the news that I have tested positive for COVID and won't be able to play in the Olympic Games in Tokyo," she wrote on social media. "It has always been a dream of mine to represent the USA at the Olympics, and I hope there will be many more chances for me to make this come true in the future."

Composer quits

Keigo Oyamada, better known to his legions of fans as Cornelius, is a maverick musician who has been dubbed the “Japanese Beck” and who has been likened to Brian Wilson, the genius behind the Beach Boys.

In Japan, Oyamada was best known as one of the originators of the kitschy Shibuya-kei sound.

With that kind of résumé, Japanese organizers were eager to tap him to contribute to the score of the opening ceremony.

But back in the 1990s, Oyamada sounded some discordant notes when he boasted in several magazine interviews about how in grade school and high school he tormented fellow students. In particular, he described how he made a disabled classmate eat his own feces and masturbate in front of the class.

When word of the interviews got out, he publicly apologized. The Tokyo Olympics organizers said they had no idea the musician had acted like a monster but initially said they hoped he would continue to participate in the festivities.

Keigo Oyamada during the Stella McCartney Spring 2015 Presentation on July 17, 2014 in Tokyo.
Keigo Oyamada during the Stella McCartney Spring 2015 Presentation on July 17, 2014 in Tokyo.Atsushi Tomura / Getty Images file

On Monday, Oyamada announced on Twitter that he had “submitted my resignation to the organizing committee.”

“I would like to express my sincere gratitude for all the comments and suggestions, and I will reflect on them in my future actions and thoughts,” he wrote. “I sincerely apologize for this incident.”

Games organizers also released a statement that said Oyamada's bullying was "absolutely unacceptable."

"In light of his sincere apology, we expressed a willingness to allow Mr. Oyamada to continue his work on preparations in the short time remaining before the Opening Ceremony," the statement said. "However, we have come to believe this decision was wrong, and we have decided to accept his resignation."

David Wallechinsky, one of the founding members of the International Society of Olympic Historians and the organization's former president, said that despite the wave of bad headlines "these Olympics will probably come off well on television."

"Keep in mind that something like 98 percent of people around the world follow the Olympics on TV or online," Wallechinsky said. "It will look fine to them. My experience is that once the competitions begin, the media and the public overwhelmingly shift their attention to the competitions and the athletes."

NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News, owns the U.S. broadcasting rights to the Games.

Corky Siemaszko and Arata Yamamoto reported from Tokyo, and Daniel Arkin from Los Angeles.