TOKYO (JAPAN) – Japan’s Olympic sponsors are shelving advertising campaigns and delaying marketing events for this year’s Tokyo Games, amid concerns over public sentiment toward the event, which is souring due to a fresh wave of the pandemic.
Sponsors also worry that organisers have not informed them about a Plan-B in case the pandemic derails the Games again this year.
Uncertainty over the Olympics poses fresh challenge to domestic sponsors, including many of Japan’s biggest companies, such as Canon Inc and Japan Airlines Co Ltd, who have collectively pitched in more than $3 billion to support the event.
Assurances by both the Japanese government and the International Olympic Committee this month that the Games would begin as scheduled on July 23 have not quelled concerns.
In interviews with two dozen sponsors, organisers and officials, sources described deepening uncertainty and frustration as national infection numbers hit record highs in January, turning the public mood against the event.
Nearly 80% of the public now believes the Games should be cancelled or delayed further, according to a January survey by Kyodo.
“We’re asking ourselves, ‘are we really going to do this?'” said a person seconded by his company to the Olympic organising committee. The person, who like most of those interviewed, declined to be named as he is not allowed to speak to the media, said even raising the topic of a “Plan B” was discouraged.
Canon’s chief financial officer Toshizo Tanaka told reporters on Thursday the company was working under the assumption that the event would go ahead as planned. “But we are considering internally how to respond just in case it can’t be held,” he said.
Asahi Group Holdings, the holding company of beer maker Asahi Breweries, has stopped airing a part of its TV ads that say it is a top-tier Olympics partner, a company official said, as it waits for more clarity on the schedule.
Though Japan has contained the spread of the virus better than many other countries, hospitals are still weighed down by patients and the public has been advised to stay indoors as much as possible.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who has pledged to hold the Olympics this year, has seen his support slide in recent weeks over the handling of the pandemic.
The uncertainty extends to the Olympic torch relay, scheduled for March 25 and meant to kick off celebrations ahead of the opening. But instead of planning parties for clients, sponsors are treading water because they don’t know whether spectators will be allowed.
“We haven’t officially heard how ‘restrained’ the event will be this year,” said the source working for the relay sponsor, adding that preparations for the relay were already under way at this time last year.
His company quietly dropped plans to line the relay route with corporate booths and logos last year, he said, partly because of deteriorating earnings during the pandemic.
Tokyo organising committee said it was considering what measures to adopt during the event to counter the virus, but said the relay will begin on the scheduled date.
For Motoji Kawasaki, an official in Tokyo’s Higashimurayama city, one immediate priority is finding a replacement for Ken Shimura, a celebrity torch runner who died of COVID-19 last year.
“There’s normally an air of excitement leading up to the Olympics,” he said. “But it’s too naive to think about that this year. Now, it is all about coronavirus.”