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Editorial: Criticism of athletes ahead of Tokyo Games stems from distrust of organizers

With no prospects of bringing coronavirus infections under control, criticism of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games has in some cases been turned toward athletes.

    Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee, who made a comeback from leukemia to earn a spot on Japan's Olympic team, is said to have received calls through social media for her not to appear in the games.

    In a post online, Ikee stated, "It can't be helped that many people are calling for a suspension (of the games), and I think it's only natural." But she added, "Even if there are calls for me to voice opposition, I cannot change anything myself."

    Tennis player Kei Nishikori, who became infected with the coronavirus last year, said in a news conference that the games should not be held if it meant that people could die as a result. This comment was criticized by supporters of staging the games.

    It is an abnormal situation for athletes themselves to bear the brunt of criticism. The remarks likely stem from growing public distrust of the organizers of the games.

    By rights, any criticism should be directed at the International Olympic Committee, which organizes the games, the games organizing committee, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, and the central government, which holds responsibility as the country hosting the event.

    A decision on how far limits might be placed on the number of spectators has been delayed until June, and it remains unclear how many foreign athletes and related parties will enter the country. Details on measures to prevent the spread of infections at the games have not been announced, and there have been no explanations sufficient to dispel people's unease and discontent.

    People have also viewed "special treatment" of the Olympics harshly. Regarding priority vaccinations for athletes, long-distance runner Hitomi Niiya divulged mixed feelings, commenting, "I think it's strange for only Olympic athletes to be vaccinated."

    With just over two months before the games are due to begin, athletes are at the stage of polishing their performances for the main event. With public opinion split over whether or not the games should be held, we cannot allow athletes to be caught in the middle.

    Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, commented, "It hurts me to see athletes being burdened with malicious slander. This is an issue which I should be blamed for." If that's the case, then she has a responsibility to respond in a way that the public can understand.

    We must avoid a situation in which the voices of athletes, who are playing the leading role in the games, are not heard. We need to make an effort to preserve an environment where athletes can talk freely, especially at this time when discussion is needed.

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