Olympic sponsor Toyota scraps Games promo, skips opening ceremony

·2-min read
The pandemic-postponed Games are largely unpopular with the Japanese public

Tokyo 2020 sponsor Toyota confirmed Monday it has scrapped plans to run an Olympic-linked brand campaign in Japan, where opposition to the pandemic-postponed Games remains high.

The world's biggest automaker also said it will not send any executives to the opening ceremony, which will be held largely without spectators.

Toyota is a major sponsor of Tokyo 2020, which has struggled to win support in Japan as Covid-19 cases rise in the capital.

Toyota spokeswoman Shiori Hashimoto said a decision had been taken to scrap a campaign dubbed "Start your impossible" linked to the Games.

She declined to specify a specific reason for the decision or when exactly it was taken.

"Toyota officials will not attend the opening ceremony, and the chief reason behind it is there will be no spectators," she added.

Fewer than 1,000 Olympic officials and VIPs including sponsors will be allowed to watch the opening ceremony on Friday, according to Japanese media.

Around 60 Japanese companies have ploughed a record $3.3 billion into Tokyo 2020, while top sponsors like Toyota account for $500 million more.

Their hopes of a marketing bonanza have been tempered by the spectator ban, although they can still expect global exposure from international broadcasters.

Earlier Monday, Toyota's operating officer Jun Nagata told reporters it was becoming more difficult for the Olympics to strike a positive chord with the Japanese public.

"It is turning into an Olympics that cannot get understanding (from the public) in various ways," Nagata told Japanese media, in comments confirmed by Hashimoto.

It comes after the first athletes tested positive for the virus in the Olympic Village, raising fears of a cluster just days ahead of the opening ceremony.

At least 58 cases linked to the Games have been discovered this month, including four athletes.

A weekend poll in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper found that 55 percent of voters were opposed to holding the Olympics this summer, with 33 percent in favour.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has pledged that the Games will be "safe and secure", but 68 percent of respondents in the Asahi poll said they thought that was impossible.

In a statement, the International Olympic Committee said Toyota's decision was "not a change in strategy, and the company has taken this approach since the pandemic began."

"The company continues to advertise its partnership globally," it added.

Tokyo 2020 spokesman Masa Takaya said he was not aware of the reports about Toyota's adverts, but insisted sponsors remained supportive.

"I know those partners and sponsors must have been struggling to support Tokyo 2020," he told reporters on Monday.

"Of course, considering the public sentiment... there must be a decision by each company in terms of how they should be able to disseminate, how they should be able to convey their messages to the public audiences."