Olympics chief accused of insulting Hiroshima survivors with visit to atomic bombing site

Residents of Hiroshima have called for the cancellation of a visit to Hiroshima by Thomas Bach, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) president, saying his presence there would “dishonour” victims of the atomic bombing.

Bach, who has angered many Japanese by insisting on pushing ahead with the Tokyo 2020 Games during the coronavirus pandemic, is due to visit the city’s peace memorial park on Friday, the first day of the Olympic Truce adopted by the UN in 1993.

“Holding the Olympics under the current situation where many lives are lost [due to the virus] runs counter to the spirit of the Games that is supposed to be a festival of peace,” said Kunihiko Sakuma, the head of a group supporting hibakusha – survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – according to the Kyodo news agency.

Shuichi Adachi, a former Hiroshima bar association head, also opposed the visit in a statement submitted to the Hiroshima mayor and governor.

“President Bach using the image of ‘a peaceful world without nuclear weapons’ only to justify holding of the Olympics by force under the pandemic is a blasphemy to atomic bombing survivors,” said Adachi’s statement, written on behalf of 11 anti-Olympic and pacifist groups.

“An act like this does nothing but do harm to the global nuclear weapons ban movement.”

, Olympics chief accused of insulting Hiroshima survivors with visit to atomic bombing site, The Nzuchi Times Guardian
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, right, speaks to journalists after meeting Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga in Tokyo on Wednesday. Photograph: Kimimasa Mayama/AP

An online petition opposing the trip has attracted about 75,000 signatures. The petition’s sponsors noted the poor timing of Bach’s visit, coming 76 years to the day since the Trinity nuclear test in New Mexico that led to the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki weeks later.

Bach said he was focused only on marking the first day of the Olympic truce. His visit was an offer of peace “and nothing else”, he said, adding: “This is the message we are going to send in the city of peace of Hiroshima. This will have nothing to do with politics. We will not politicise this visit in any way.”

Sueichi Kido, the secretary general of Nihon Hidankyo, which represents survivors of both atomic bombings, said the organisation would not publicly comment on Bach’s visit, but added that he believed he should stay away.

“Thomas Bach has always said the Olympics will go ahead no matter what, and it feels like he is using Hiroshima to help his cause,” Kido told the Guardian, stressing that he was speaking in a personal capacity. “He says he is going in support of world peace, but I don’t trust anything he says. These Olympics are about making money for the IOC.

, Olympics chief accused of insulting Hiroshima survivors with visit to atomic bombing site, The Nzuchi Times Guardian

“Hibakusha are individuals, and some will welcome him, but I would rather he didn’t come,” added Kido, who was a child when an American B-29 bomber dropped a plutonium bomb on his home town of Nagasaki on 9 August 1945, killing 74,000 people.

Bach will meet Hiroshima’s governor, Hidehiko Yuzaki, and is expected to place a wreath at the peace memorial park, visit the peace memorial museum and view the A-bomb dome, one of the few buildings left standing after the attack on 6 August 1945.

An estimated 80,000 of Hiroshima’s 350,000 people were killed instantly; by the end of the year, the death toll would rise to 140,000 as survivors succumbed to injuries or illnesses connected to their exposure to radiation.

John Coates, an IOC vice-president, will visit Nagasaki on Friday, Tokyo 2020 organisers said. He will visit the peace park and peace memorial hall, where he will lay a wreath at a cenotaph for the victims.

Coates sparked anger earlier this year after he said the postponed Tokyo Games would “absolutely” go ahead even if the city was under a Covid-19 state of emergency.

Tokyo is now subject to emergency measures, including a ban on alcohol sales at bars and restaurants, until 22 August as it struggles to contain a sharp rise in cases. On Thursday, it reported 1,149 new infections, the highest number in almost six months.

Bach, who arrived in Tokyo last week, insisted cancellation had never been an option, describing the Games as an opportunity for the world to show solidarity during the pandemic.

“We, the IOC, will never abandon the athletes, and with the cancellation, we would have lost a whole generation of athletes,” he said in an interview with Kyodo. “So, cancellation for us was not really an option.”

Bach also plans to visit Sapporo to watch the women’s marathon on 7 August, and Fukushima, which will host softball matches just ahead of the opening ceremony on 23 July.

Tokyo was awarded the Games in 2013 after pitching them as proof of the country’s recovery from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster and resulting triple nuclear meltdown in Fukushima.

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