Olympic sponsor Toyota passes on Games TV commercials amid lackluster support in Japan

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President and CEO of Toyota Motor Corporation, Akio Toyoda and President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach pose for photographers after signing official documents on March 13, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan.

Chris McGrath | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Tokyo 2020 Olympics sponsor Toyota will not run Games-related TV commercials amid lackluster public support for the Olympics, with two-thirds of Japanese doubting organizers can keep the Games safe during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a local media poll.

Chief Executive Officer of Toyota Motor, Akio Toyoda, and other executives will not attend the opening ceremony, Toyota said on Monday.

“It is true that Toyota will not be attending the opening ceremony, and the decision was made considering various factors including no spectators,” a spokesperson said.

“We will not be airing any commercials related to the Games in Japan,” she added.

Some 60 Japanese corporations who have paid more than $3 billion for sponsorship rights to the postponed 2020 Olympics now face a dilemma of whether or not to tie their brands to an event that has so far failed to win strong public backing.

With just four days before the opening ceremony in Tokyo, 68% of respondents in an Asahi newspaper poll expressed doubt about the ability of Olympic organizers to control coronavirus infections, with 55% saying they were opposed to the Games going ahead.

Three-quarters of the 1,444 people in the telephone survey said they agreed with a decision to ban spectators from events.

As Covid-19 cases rise in Tokyo, which is under a fourth state of emergency, public concern has grown that hosting an event with tens of thousands of overseas athletes, officials and journalists could accelerate infection rates in Japan’s capital and introduce variants that are more infectious or deadlier.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has said he hopes the Japanese public will warm to the Games once competition begins and as Japanese athletes begin winning medals. The Tokyo Olympics run July 23 through Aug. 8.

“We will continue to co-operate and work closely with organizers such as Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Tokyo 2020, and the IOC to ensure we have a safe and secure environment for the Games,” government spokesperson, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said at a regular briefing.

Covid cases

Games officials on Sunday reported the first COVID-19 case among competitors in the athletes’ village in Tokyo where 11,000 athletes are expected stay during the Games. Since July 2, Tokyo 2020 organizers have reported 58 positive cases among athletes, officials and journalists.

Any major outbreak in the village could wreak havoc on competitions because those either infected or isolating would not be able to compete. Olympic officials and individual event organisers have contingency plans to deal with infections among athletes.

A Tokyo 2020 spokesperson said the village was a safe place to stay, adding the infection rate among athletes and other Games-related people visiting Japan was nearly 0.1 pct.

On Sunday six British track and field athletes along with two staff members were forced to isolate after someone on their flight to Japan tested positive for Covid-19.

“Many athletes may have parties or ceremonies before they go to Tokyo where there may be cheering or greeting. So they may also have a risk to get infected in their own countries,” said Koji Wada, a professor at Tokyo’s International University of Health and Welfare and an adviser on the government’s coronavirus response

The latest surge in cases in Tokyo comes after four earlier waves, the deadliest of which was in January. New COVID-19 cases in Tokyo reached 1,410 on Saturday, the most since the start of the year, with new infections exceeding 1,000 for five straight days.

Most of those new cases are among younger people, as Japan has succeeded in getting most of its vulnerable elderly population vaccinated with at least one shot, although only 32% of the overall population has so far received one.

Olympic organizers on Monday rebuffed calls for the dismissal of Olympic composer Keigo Oyamada for controversial comments he made in the 1990s. Oyamada, who is involved in preparations for the opening ceremony, talked about bullying a disabled classmate in an interview published in a magazine.

Other officials have stepped down in the run up to the Games for inappropriate comments, including former head of Tokyo 2020, Yoshiro Mori, in February and the creative director for the opening and closing ceremonies, Hiroshi Sasaki, in March.

In the political arena, plans for the first in-person summit between Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and South Korean President Moon Jae-in during the Games, were left uncertain over media reports a senior Japanese diplomat made offensive remarks about Moon.

For Tokyo residents, travel on their city’s roads became more difficult on Monday as the city readied for the start of the Olympics with new traffic restrictions, including reserved lanes for Olympic officials, athletes and journalists.

Transport authorities also hiked toll charges by 1,000 yen ($9.08) for private vehicles using the network of elevated expressways that snake through the city in a bid to reduce traffic during the Games.

Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns NBC Sports and NBC Olympics. NBC Olympics is the U.S. broadcast rights holder to all Summer and Winter Games through 2032

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