The head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is drawing reactions in Japan after referring to the local population as “Chinese,” during a meeting in Tokyo on Tuesday.
Thomas Bach, 67, said at his first public appearance in Japan since arriving that a safe Summer Olympics is his top priority, a popular daily reported.
“For everybody – for the athletes, for all the delegations, and most importantly also for the Chinese people … Japanese people,” Bach said, as he corrected himself, according to the report.
Bach used an English-to-Japanese interpreter during the meeting with Japanese organizers Seiko Hashimoto and Toshiro Muto. The verbal mistake was not repeated in translations, but local media reported on the slip-up, the Guardian said.
The IOC chief’s comments come less than two weeks before the opening ceremony, and amid public skepticism about hosting the Summer Games. The Olympics will take place during a Covid-19 related declaration of emergency in Tokyo and all events are to take place without spectators.
Japanese paper Daily Sports reported Tuesday that people have gathered to protest the Olympics and Bach’s presence outside his five-star hotel. Demonstrators held signs with photos of Bach’s face crossed out, urging him to leave Japan, local media said.
On Japanese Twitter, anonymous commenters reacted to Bach’s slip of the tongue. “Is he playing with the Japanese people?” one commenter said on the platform. Others said Bach had made a blunder that has “made the Japanese people all [his] enemies.”
Meanwhile, the IOC has said 84 percent of the 11,000 athletes are expected to be fully vaccinated when the Games begin, according to the South China Morning Post on Tuesday. Health experts have warned the gathering of people around the world could create new strains of the novel coronavirus.
Naoto Ueyama, the head of Japan Doctors’ Union, said in May that the Games could be the site of “different strains merging or fusing” to create a dangerous new variant.
Bach is to meet with Prime Minister Yoshide Suga on Wednesday.