Some of the biggest Japanese sponsors of the Tokyo Olympics want organisers to postpone the Games for several months to allow more spectators to attend.
The proposal was made privately over recent weeks, according to people with knowledge of the situation. The request follows growing frustration among some of the 47 Japanese companies that collectively paid more than $3bn to back the Games, making it the most heavily sponsored sporting event in history.
“I do not think that this proposal will strongly influence the organisers because they seem completely determined to start on July 24,” said a senior executive at one corporate backer.
“But it just makes much, much more sense from our perspective to hold the Games when there are more vaccinated people, the weather is cooler and maybe public opposition is lower.”
The prevalence of Covid-19 and the slow rollout of vaccines have frustrated the public, with opinion polls showing as much as 80 per cent of Japanese people want the Olympics cancelled or postponed.
The total number of people who have received at least one vaccination shot in Japan has surpassed 14m, or 11 per cent of the population.
Sponsors were told by the Japan Olympic Committee in April that the pivotal decision on whether to allow spectators to watch events live would not be made until the last possible moment, possibly June 24.
Many of the companies had based substantial marketing campaigns around ticket giveaways and promotions at the venues. Banks, brokerages, insurance companies and other large industrial sponsors had planned to use the events for corporate entertainment.
Two people who attended the meeting said some companies decided that the money spent on Olympic sponsorship was effectively “worthless” but that a postponement would allow them to recover some value if it allowed spectators and greater movement around venues.
The suggestions of a last-minute delay until late September or October were made as preparations for the Games entered their final 50 days.
A senior executive at one sponsor said the postponement suggestion came with practical benefit. He said the company would not commit any more money to the project but would consider paying a supplementary sponsorship fee if the Olympics took place later in the year.
“If the Games started a few months later, a much bigger part of the country would be vaccinated, there would be less uncertainty and we would certainly consider putting more money in as sponsors,” he said.
He added that there was an internal debate within his company about the risks of linking its brand with an event that Shigeru Omi, the doctor leading Japan’s Covid response, said this week was “not normal” to hold in the current environment.
Another head of a Japanese company who supported Tokyo’s bid for the Games said: “Japan should make every effort so that the Olympics can be held on schedule and the government should expedite the rollout of vaccines. But a plan B for a two to three month delay should be prepared as well.”
The Tokyo 2020 organising committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The business community has been sharply divided over whether the country should host the Olympics. SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son and Hiroshi Mikitani, chief executive of ecommerce group Rakuten, among the most vocal opponents.
But even among sponsors, companies have been placed in an awkward position with strong public opposition making it difficult for them to promote the event.
Akio Toyoda, chief executive of worldwide Olympics sponsor Toyota, expressed frustration on Thursday with the slow progress in controlling Covid-19 Japan.
“This is a serious emergency situation . . . that requires crisis management,” Toyoda said. “The reality is that we are still in a period of anxiety and dissatisfaction.”
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