July 13, 2021

Article at Washington Post

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Olympic-size gaffe in Tokyo: IOC chief Bach calls Japanese people ‘Chinese’

TOKYO — International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach added to his already shaky public image in Japan on Tuesday by inadvertently referring to the Japanese people as “Chinese” at his first public appearance since arriving in Tokyo last week.

“You have managed to make Tokyo the best-ever prepared city for the Olympic Games. This is even more remarkable under the difficult circumstances we all have to face,” Bach said at the headquarters of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee, before making a slip of the tongue.

“Our common target is safe and secure games for everybody; for the athletes, for all the delegations, and most importantly also for the Chinese people — Japanese people,” Bach said.

Although Bach caught his mistake quickly and interpreters didn’t translate the gaffe into Japanese, it was quickly picked up by Japanese news outlets and sparked a backlash on social media.

Many Japanese blame Bach for, in their eyes, forcing Japan to press ahead with the Olympics in the midst of a pandemic and despite the risks — although the Japanese government has always stood behind the decision to push on with the Games.

It is not the first time Bach’s comments have struck a dissonant chord in Japan. He also inflamed public opinion in March by saying the Olympics will require a “great sacrifice” and then in May for praising the “great resilience and spirit” of the Japanese people and their ability “to overcome adversity.”

Both of those remarks were seen by some as insensitive because most Japanese people did not want the Games to take place this year and were not willingly making a sacrifice.

Bach spent his first three days in quarantine at a five-star hotel in central Tokyo. Like most people entering for the Olympics, his movements are supposedly limited for the first 14 days.

Yet he is scheduled to travel to the western city of Hiroshima on Friday and is due to visit the Peace Memorial Park and lay flowers at a cenotaph dedicated to victims of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing.

Two civic groups have raised objections to his visit, arguing the trip is politically motivated, taking advantage of the city’s efforts to promote world peace and “dishonoring” survivors of the bombing, Kyodo News reported. Critics also argue it is inappropriate for him to travel from Tokyo when the capital is under a state of emergency designed to curb infections.

An online petition launched last week calling for the cancellation of Bach’s Hiroshima visit had received more than 30,000 signatures as of Tuesday evening.

The Olympics are scheduled to open July 23 and close Aug. 8. Overseas spectators were banned in March, and last week organizers also decided to bar domestic spectators from all but a handful of venues far from Tokyo, after another rise in coronavirus infections.

In another embarrassing incident, police in Tokyo said two American and two British men working as electricians for a power company contracted to the Olympics were arrested on suspicion of using cocaine. Aggreko Events Services Japan said all four had been suspended from their posts pending a thorough internal investigation.

“Aggreko sincerely apologizes for the concern this has caused the public, the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the athletes and the many thousands of people dedicated to the safe and successful running of the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” it said in a statement.

Bach has maintained he has complete faith in Japan to deliver a “safe and secure” Games. He ended his speech Tuesday with a Japanese phrase, “Gambari mashou,” that translates as “Let’s do our best.”

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