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Naomi Osaka, other Japanese athletes express concern over Olympics


Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka has mixed feelings about the Tokyo Olympics.

When asked about the Games at the Italian Open on Sunday, the second-ranked tennis player admitted that she was conflicted as to whether or not they should be held.

“Of course I would say I want the Olympics to happen, because I’m an athlete and that’s sort of what I’ve been waiting for my entire life,” she said.

“But I think that there’s so much important stuff going on, and especially the past year,” Osaka added. “I think a lot of unexpected things have happened and if it’s putting people at risk, and if it’s making people very uncomfortable, then it definitely should be a discussion, which I think it is as of right now.”

Already postponed from 2020, the Tokyo Olympics have faced rising opposition in recent weeks as the virus continues to tax Japan’s health-care system and cases continue to surge. At present, only 2% of the Japanese population is vaccinated.

Despite the opposition, local organizers and IOC officials have insisted that the games will open as planned on July 23. 

Osaka is not the only Japanese athlete to speak out about the Games. Rikako Ikee, the Japanese swimming star who spent 10 months hospitalized with Leukemia and recently qualified for the Olympics, took to Twitter to address calls for her to step down.

“We athletes have, of course, been working hard in order to take part in the Olympics, but I think it is natural that many are calling for the games to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic,” she wrote

“I share your desire to emerge from this darkness as quickly as possible, but to put that burden on the shoulders of athletes is very tough. Even if you want me to oppose the games, nothing that I say will change anything.”

Ikee also cited her particular health concerns.

“I have a chronic illness and, whether the games are held or not, I live every day with the anxiety [of being infected with the virus] and becoming seriously ill,” she wrote. “Myself and other athletes will accept what happens, whether the Olympics take place or not.”

The IOC recently announced that vaccine developers Pfizer and BioNTech would donate doses to athletes and officials preparing for Tokyo. The IOC has been pushing for Olympic athletes to get vaccinated ahead of the Games. 

“I feel like whatever makes everyone more comfortable and more safe,” Osaka added. “There’s going to be a lot of people entering the country, so they definitely have to make the right decisions on that. At the end of the day, you can’t force anyone to be vaccinated.”