Japan’s best-known tech investor thinks holding the Olympics is a terrible idea

SoftBank Corp. Chief Executive Son attends a news conference in Tokyo
SoftBank Corp. Chief Executive Son attends a news conference in Tokyo
Image: REUTERS/Yuya Shino
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Calls within Japan for the government to cancel the Olympics are growing ever louder. Over the weekend, SoftBank founder and CEO Masayoshi Son, who oversees the world’s biggest tech venture capital fund, added to the chorus.

The 2020 Summer Olympics, which will take place in Tokyo and other parts of Japan from July 23 to Aug. 8, was postponed from last year due to the coronavirus. But as the world has seen new variants of Covid-19, many countries including Japan have experienced a resurgence in cases, prompting calls for another postponement or cancellation. Nevertheless, on Friday (May 21), International Olympic Committee official John Coates said that the games will go ahead even if Tokyo remains under a state of emergency because of Covid-19.

Following the comments from Coates, Son lashed out at the IOC’s stance in a series of tweets over the weekend.

Son, whose Vision Funds have invested more than $100 billion in a range of startups, has tweeted frequently about the spread of Covid-19 in Japan this month. In a tweet on Saturday, in which he noted that more than 80% of people want the games to either be postponed or canceled, Son questioned whether the IOC has the “right” to insist the games be held. The tech investor cited Japan’s slow progress in vaccinating its people as a major argument for canceling. Only around 3% of people have received the first shot in the country, while the government said yesterday that the state of emergency imposed on cities including Tokyo could be extended beyond the original expiration date of May 31.

Son acknowledged that Japan would have to suffer heavy financial losses from the cancelation of the games. But he emphasized that the country could face bigger risks if the event goes ahead, urging decision-makers to consider “what the public has to endure.”

“But if 100,000 people from 200 countries descend on vaccine-laggard Japan and the mutant variant spreads, lives could be lost, subsidies could result if a state of emergency is called, and gross domestic product could fall,” according to a translation of his tweets by Reuters.

As Japan continues to grapple with rising infections, both citizens and business elites have argued for the games to be halted.  Earlier this month, Japanese lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya launched an online petition calling for the cancelation of the games, with the initiative gathering over 350,000 signatures as of May 14. Meanwhile a Reuters survey recently found nearly 70% of Japanese companies want the games to be either canceled or postponed. Hiroshi Mikitani, the CEO of Japan’s top e-commerce firm Rakuten said in an interview with CNN this month that it would amount to a “suicide mission” for the country to host the games as scheduled. For Son, any shock to the world’s economy including a wider spread of the pandemic could damage his funds’ recent impressive performance.

The strong opposition to the Tokyo Games further overshadows the future of the Olympics, which used to be a boost to the global standing of a host country. The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics scheduled in February next year is also facing growing international calls for the games to be canceled or boycotted, in this case due to China’s human rights abuses in regions including Xinjiang.