Kenji Utsunomiya wants to cancel the Olympic and Paralympic Games scheduled for this summer in Tokyo. This 74-year-old lawyer from Ehime prefecture in the south of the archipelago has launched a petition on the Change.org site which brings together more than 375,000 signatures against the holding of the Olympic Games. A real success for this man beaten four times in the race for the government of Tokyo, he explains his approach to RMC Sport.
Kenji Utsunomiya, why did you launch this petition in early May?
Currently in Japan, the progression of COVID-19 is becoming more and more important. A state of emergency has been declared in 9 prefectures and less restrictive measures than the state of emergency are in force in 10 other departments. The number of cases is increasing day by day. The hospital system is under great pressure. We cannot save all lives. Sometimes some people die at home. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to make the holding of the Olympics compatible with safeguarding the health of the Japanese. The Olympics will consume medical resources which are currently precious but also many health professionals who will be sent to ensure the smooth running of the Olympics. The IOC is calling for 10,000 health workers and more than 30 hospitals to be reserved for the Olympic Games. But now, hospitals, doctors, nurses are too valuable to save the lives of Japanese people. That’s why I’m against holding the Olympics.
Do you have a grudge against the Olympics in general or just those in Tokyo?
Personally, I really like sports. I played table tennis from college to college. I am not against the Olympics as such. Today, we are in the midst of a pandemic. Medical resources and health professionals will be devoted to the Olympics if they take place, to the detriment of the health and lives of the Japanese. I am against these Olympics but not against the Olympics in general.
Are you surprised by the success of the petition (it reaches over 375,000 signatures)?
This is the first time that I have launched an online petition. I didn’t know how many votes I could collect. We already have 375,000 signatures. Rather, it was the speed with which these signatures were collected that surprised. As soon as the petition was launched, voices were raised to demand the cancellation of the Olympics. The number of signatures will exceed the site’s current Japanese record with 380,000 signatures. I don’t think the number is that important. I’m not surprised. I have already launched several paper petitions. I collected 3,400,000 signatures to reform the credit law.
The rejection of the Olympics is the dominant opinion among the Japanese. Do you have this feeling?
Each time we conducted an opinion poll, 60% or even 70% of those questioned oppose the holding of the Olympics this summer, wishing either a postponement or a cancellation. Recently, another poll showed that 80% of Japanese people are against holding the Olympics (Asahi Shimbun poll). Despite this, the government, the IOC and the Japanese organizers are not listening to the voices raised against them. Before we started this online petition, we knew that the majority of Japanese people were against the Olympics. With this petition, we have made visible those voices that were previously implicit. Our petition also made it possible, I believe, to open a space for discussion on the possibility of maintaining the Olympic Games or not.
Have you been contacted by the Japanese government?
I did not receive any call from those in charge of the Olympics. Last Friday, I went to the Tokyo government headquarters to see Governor Yuriko Koike. She did not receive me. I only saw one representative. I wanted to present my petition to the governor. The same day, I submitted by mail the same petition to the IOC and to the International Paralympic Committee. So far I have not received any response from these officials. Tomorrow, I will present the petition to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga but he will probably not welcome me. It doesn’t matter. I will present the same letter to the officials of the Olympic organizing committee. I think they will repeat to me as usual their motto: “We will organize these Olympics in complete safety”.
Are you confident in the success of your approach?
Everything will depend on the number of signatures that we will collect until the Olympic Games are held. But we must also monitor the health situation in Japan. The health crisis is worsening day by day (5,229 new cases Wednesday). If the situation continues, the authorities will be forced to cancel the Olympics this summer. The vaccination rate in Japan is very low compared to developed countries (1.9% of the population only vaccinated). Healthcare professionals have not yet been vaccinated. Vaccination for people over 65 is just beginning. We need a large number of medical personnel to carry out the vaccination campaign. If all does not go as planned, the holding of the Olympics will be very difficult.