Asahi Shimbun accused Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of holding the Olympics “against the will of the public” in its editorial on Wednesday. The newspaper, Japan’s second biggest in terms of circulation, is an official partner of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“We don’t think it makes sense to hold the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo this summer,” the newspaper’s editorial board wrote. “The distrust and opposition toward the ruling government, the Tokyo government, and Olympic officials are widespread as they haven’t tried to address people’s doubts and concerns.”
But the company that owns the paper said the editorial was not a statement of its position, adding that it would continue its activities as an Olympic sponsor.
“When we signed the contract as an official partner with the Games Organizing Committee in January 2016, we promised that we would draw a line between our activities as an official partner and our reporting as a speech organization,” Asahi Shimbun said in a statement. “There will be no change in the fact that the Asahi Shimbun will report on events related to the Olympics from time to time and from a fair perspective.”
Asahi Shimbun is known as a left-leaning publication in Japan that’s often critical of the conservative ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
“We ask Prime Minister Suga to calmly and objectively assess the situation and decide whether to cancel the event this summer,” the newspaper added in its editorial.
The article was trending online in Japan, and attracted the attention of some prominent figures, including politicians.
“I feel Asahi Shimbun’s editorial, which is an official Olympic sponsor, is serious,” tweeted Renho Saito, a prominent Japanese politician and member of the Constitutional Democratic Party, a major opposition party. “Let’s watch the movements of the other sponsors.”
The editorial reflects the growing calls for Tokyo to reconsider hosting the Olympics this summer. Covid-19 cases have been rising in Japan for months, raising questions about the safety of hosting a major international event. The Tokyo games are scheduled to begin July 23.
A handful of prominent business leaders have voiced concerns about the event, too. This month, Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani told CNN Business that it would be a “suicide mission” for the country to host the games, adding that “the risk is too big.” He gave the Japanese government a score of “two out of 10” for its handling of the pandemic.
SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son said on Twitter a few days ago that now “more than 80% of the public (in Japan) want the Olympics canceled.” Son questioned whether the IOC “had the right to hold the Games” and that there was much to lose if the event led to the spread in mutant virus strains and a loss of lives in Japan.
Toyota, one of the leading sponsors of this year’s games, said earlier this month that it was “concerned” with the amount of public frustration being directed at athletes ahead of the spectacle. Toyota is one of 15 global companies that make up the Olympic Partners program — the highest level of Olympic sponsorship.
Olympic organizers have reiterated that they’re confident the games can be held safely and securely. Dick Pound, the longest serving member of the International Olympic Committee, told CNN this week that “none of the folks involved in the planning and the execution of the Games is considering a cancellation. That’s essentially off the table.”
Asahi Shimbun is a domestic partner of Tokyo 2020, representing a different level of sponsorship than Toyota. It is a widely read newspaper within Japan, selling around 5 million newspapers a day in 2020.