Japanese emperor's staggering move in $26 billion Olympics furore

·Sports Editor
·3-min read
Emperor Naruhito, pictured here at a press conference in Tokyo in 2020.
Emperor Naruhito speaks during a press conference in Tokyo in 2020. (Photo by Rodrigo Reyes Marin - Pool/Getty Images)

Japanese Emperor Naruhito has expressed his concerns about the Tokyo Olympics in a rare move that goes against traditional norms in the country.

The head of the Imperial Palace revealed on Thursday that Naruhito is "extremely worried" that the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics could accelerate the spread of the coronavirus.

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The Olympics will bring thousands of foreign athletes, officials, sponsors and journalists to Japan during the pandemic.

Organisers announced on Monday that they will allow 50 per cent crowd capacity at all venues, with a cap of 10,000 spectators at any one event.

Experts have already cautioned about the risk of infections, and the general public has consistently called for cancellation or further postponement.

Yasuhiko Nishimura, grand steward of the Imperial Household Agency, told a news conference on Thursday that the Emperor has voiced concerns.

"His majesty is extremely worried about the current situation of the Covid-19 infections," Nishimura said.

"While there are voices of unease among the public, I believe (the emperor) is concerned that holding the Olympics and Paralympics ... may lead to the expansion of the infections."

The delayed Games open on July 23, and the Paralympics begin a month later.

Nishimura also urged the organisers to "take every possible anti-virus measures so as not to cause the spread of the infections at the Olympics and Paralympics, where the emperor serves the Honorary Patron."

The emperor is the symbol of the state with no political power, and rarely expresses opinions about political matters.

But like his father, Naruhito has gained broad popularity and his words are highly respected.

Emperor Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako, pictured here in 2018.
Emperor Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako in 2018. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images)

Japan determined to push ahead with Olympics

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is determined to hold the Olympics despite concerns from the public and public health experts.

The rescheduled July 23-August 8 Games have reportedly cost Japan a staggering $26 billion.

Adding to concerns, officials in Izumisano - a western Japan town hosting the nine-member Ugandan Olympic team for training - said a second member of the team tested positive for the virus.

The first, reportedly a coach, was detected upon arrival on Saturday in Tokyo. The rest of the team have been isolating at an Osaka hotel.

Suga eased a third state of emergency in Tokyo that had been in place since late April and switched to less-stringent measures focusing on shorter bar and restaurant hours.

Ugandan athletes, pictured here arriving at Narita airport near Tokyo.
The first group of Ugandan athletes arrive at Narita airport near Tokyo. (Kyodo via AP Images)

But experts said on Wednesday that infections are already bouncing back in the Tokyo region and could accelerate in coming weeks.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, downplaying the impact of emperor's concern, said he believed the grand steward expressed "his personal views."

Naruhito, 61, also expressed his concern about the pandemic in his speech at an academic award ceremony on Monday.

"In order to overcome this challenge, it is important for all of us, in and outside of Japan, to bring our hearts together and cooperate," he said.

Under the plan before a one-year postponement, Naruhito was scheduled to declare the start of the Olympics at the opening ceremony.

However palace officials say details - including his presence at the Games - are yet to be finalised.

with AAP

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