Naomi Osaka has made a stunning admission about the Tokyo Olympic Games that puts the Covid-19 situation into stark perspective.
Japan's four-time major winner admits that a serious "discussion" needs to take place as the country weighs up the risks of hosting the Games amid a global pandemic.
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Osaka says she has been waiting her "entire life" for a chance to represent Japan at the Olympic Games but a fresh surge of coronavirus cases in Tokyo has made her question whether the staging of the world's biggest sporting event is viable.
A virus state of emergency in Japan's capital city and other parts of the country was extended on Friday, less than three months before the delayed Games are due to begin.
There has been increasing pressure from the Japanese public to cancel the Olympics, which have already been postponed once from its original dates last summer due to the pandemic.
Osaka admits she's deeply conflicted about whether the Games should go ahead or not.
"For me, I feel like if it's putting people at risk and if it's making people very uncomfortable, then it definitely should be a discussion, which I think it is as of right now," the four-time Grand Slam winner said ahead of the Rome WTA tournament.
"Of course I would say I want the Olympics to happen, because I'm an athlete and that's sort of what I have been waiting for my entire life.
"But I think that there is so much important stuff going on, and especially the past year, I think a lot of unexpected things have happened.
"At the end of the day I'm just an athlete, and there is a whole pandemic going on."
Calls grow for Japan to cancel Games
More than 10,000 athletes from 200 countries and regions are set to travel to Tokyo for the Games, with a decision on how many domestic fans - if any - can attend to be taken in June.
The Games have proven to be a bitterly divisive topic in Japan, where more than 300,000 people have signed an online petition titled "Cancel the Tokyo Olympics to protect our lives".
The initiative was launched last week by a lawyer and former Tokyo gubernatorial candidate.
Japan has recorded just over 10,500 deaths from Covid-19, much lower than in many other countries, but its vaccine rollout is moving slowly and some areas have seen record cases as more infectious variants drive fresh waves of contagion.
Australian Open champion Osaka confirmed that she had been vaccinated.
"I have gotten vaccinated, so I think that at the end of the day you can't force anyone to be vaccinated, but I think if you're going into the Olympics and whatever makes the host country happy," she continued.
"For me I feel like whatever makes everyone more comfortable and more safe, and I think that, you know, there is going to be a lot of people entering the country so they definitely have to make the right decisions on that."
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