The Tokyo Olympics are still set to start this week with Friday’s opening ceremony, but their popularity in Japan itself is plummeting as the nation struggles to deal with Covid.
The games will take place without spectators thanks to rising case numbers, and the influx of athletes and other personnel from around the world has the Japanese population turning against the Olympics to the degree that some major sponsors are pulling their Olympics-themed advertising to avoid being associated with the event.
That includes one major backer: Toyota. The Japanese automaker is one of the key sponsors, and as noted in The Hollywood Reporter, they won’t be running any of their planned ads. That’s a major, major sign of just how far perception has tipped in Japan.
Toyota was planning to run a series of TV ads in Japan featuring the Olympic athletes whom the company sponsors.
Now, media analysts will be watching to see if the decision from Toyota, a titan of the Japanese business world, results in other local sponsors and advertisers distancing themselves from the Games. Collectively, some five dozen Japanese companies spent more than $3 billion to sponsor the Tokyo Olympics, the largest contribution from an Olympic host nation’s businesses ever.
The possibility of Japanese brands bailing from the Games has been a topic of speculation for weeks thanks to the sour feelings many Japanese residents hold towards the event.
“The Olympics is becoming an event that has not gained the public’s understanding,” a Toyota public relations executive surnamed Nagata told Japan’s daily Yomiuri newspaper Monday. The executive added that Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda and other senior executives would not be attending the Tokyo Summer Olympics opening ceremony on July 23.
There’s also this example of recent public opinion polling:
In a poll released Monday by the Asahi newspaper, 68 percent of respondents said they doubted the ability of Olympic organizers to control coronavirus infections, while 55 percent said they were opposed to the Games going ahead as planned.
With the Games set to begin in four days, just a little over 20 percent of the Japanese public is fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.
Rather than the unfounded reticence among some to get vaccinated like in the United States, Japan’s slow vaccination rate has more to do with logistics. Specifically, a shortage of doctors and nurses to actually administer the vaccine. Considering the rise of the Delta variant just as the Olympics are about to start, that Japanese opinion has tipped over into “cancel the games” isn’t surprising. The billions in taxpayer money is a sunk cost at this point, to those taxpayers.
Obviously it looks like the Olympics are indeed set to take place, but telling the story of the Tokyo games without mentioning how opposed the domestic population is to them occurring as planned would be a disservice. NBC touching that issue feels somewhat unlikely, though.