Public broadcaster NHK and other media outlets have reported that former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is remembered as the plumber named from the Super Mario video game for promoting the Tokyo Olympics in Rio, will not attend the opening ceremony.
Abe was instrumental in attracting the Olympics to Tokyo, where he pledged in front of a banquet hall full of International Olympic Committee members in 2013 that the protracted nuclear disaster in Fukushima was “under control” and that his country was “passionate, proud, and a strong believer” in the Olympics.
Abe resigned last year due to health reasons and is expected to be replaced by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suka. Abe’s office could not be reached immediately on Thursday, a public holiday in Japan.
However, Friday’s opening ceremony, which is usually the main show of the host country, is set to be a modest affair, with less than 950 people from the Japanese media – including about 15 world leaders – attending.
As COVID-19 cases are on the rise in and around Tokyo, spectators at most Olympics have turned down spectators.
First Lady Jill Biden is expected to land in Tokyo on Thursday afternoon for the Games Opening Ceremony, raising hopes that she could use her visit to discuss vaccinations with Suka.
Biden has been traveling across the United States, urging more people in the country to be vaccinated.
Local media reported on Thursday that Suka was preparing to hold direct talks with Pfizer Inc. to deliver the drugs quickly.
Only a third of Japanese have at least one dose of the vaccine, which has raised public concern that the Olympics could become a super-spreader event. Dozens of participants have already tested positive for COVID-19, thus isolating athletes and team members.
The NHK said Abe decided against attending the ceremony in an effort to reduce health risks among residents and visitors after the Japanese government announced emergency and virus controls over Tokyo.
COVID-19 infections are on the rise in the capital, and they are expected to increase further, plaguing healthcare providers.
In a recent poll in the Asahi newspaper, 68% of respondents doubted the Olympic organizers’ ability to control corona virus infections, while 55% said they were opposed to advancing sports.
The Olympics have already begun, with the Japanese women’s softball team expelling guests for a successful start on Wednesday, while the high-scoring American women’s football team was upset by Sweden.
More football and softball matches are scheduled for Thursday.
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