Tokyo Olympics boycott picks up some adherents
“There soon will be a consultation between the party and the government, and I will discuss a Tokyo Olympics boycott at the meeting,” Rep. Shin Dong-keun, the Democratic Party (DP)’s chief negotiator on the National Assembly’s Culture, Sports and Tourism Committee, told the JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday.
“Vice Minister of Sports Roh Tae-kang will brief me tomorrow about the Olympics,” he said. “I will also consult with the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee on the issue.”
During a radio interview earlier in the morning, Shin discussed the possibility of a boycott.
“I am not saying we need to boycott it because of Japan’s economic retaliations,” he said. “I am saying we can have an in-depth survey on safety [and radiation levels] and consider a boycott.
“It is a sports event, but if there is an issue of health hazard, we must take action,” he also said.
Ironically, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is hoping the Olympics will be a chance for Japan to show its recovery from the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant disaster that spread radioactivity far and wide.
Earlier this week, Rep. Choi Jae-sung, head of the DP’s special committee on countermeasures to Japan’s economic retaliations for Supreme Court rulings awarding damages to victims of World War II forced labor, said a recent survey had shown that radiation levels in Tokyo were four times higher than safety standards. He demanded that travel bans be imposed on Koreans for large parts of Japan, including the capital city.
Although Choi claimed they had nothing to do with the Olympics, the travel bans would inevitably affect the 2020 Tokyo Olympics if imposed.
Former DP lawmaker Kim Min-seok, vice chairman of the special committee, said an international boycott of the Games is also possible. He made that remark during a meeting with the foreign press on July 25, although he said it was his personal opinion.
“Unless Prime Minister Abe immediately stops this economic war and apologizes for the history [of wartime forced labor] that caused the current diplomatic row, conscientious minds from around the world will start a boycott against the Tokyo Olympics, a product Abe is most eager to sell,” Kim said. “I am confident that it will develop into a worldwide boycott - people will not go to Tokyo Olympics, not buy Japanese products and not eat Japanese food.”
The DP leadership, however, said the politicians’ remarks were not its official position.
“The party leadership is not formally considering an Olympics boycott,” a senior party official said. “But we do want to assure the safety of our athletes and our people in terms of radiation pollution.”
After Japan carried out its second economic retaliation last Friday by removing Korea from a so-called white list of trusted trade partners, Deputy Prime Minister Hong Nam-ki immediately announced that tighter restrictions will be used for Koreans traveling to Japan and imports of foods and waste material from the country due to safety concerns.
Although Hong did not elaborate on the “safety concerns,” it was evident that he was referring to the radioactive contamination in Japan since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011.
The government does not have the power to decide whether the Korean national team will participate in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics or not. The Korean Sport and Olympic Committee has the right to demand a survey from the International Olympic Committee about the safety of the event venues. If there is a problem, it is possible for the national team to declare it will not attend.
In 2016, individual athletes from several countries including Korea, Australia and the United States decided to not participate in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, citing concerns about the Zika virus.
A Korean newspaper reported Wednesday that the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee will raise the radiation issue at an upcoming meeting of the Chef de Mission Seminar for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Games.
In an exclusive report, the Kookmin Ilbo said the Korean committee will formally address the safety issue at the meeting scheduled to take place in Japan for three days starting Aug. 20. The Korean committee will raise issues about Japan’s plan to use food ingredients from Fukushima for the athletes and to hold some games near the nuclear disaster site.
The move is expected to generate international repercussions because other countries are also concerned about radiation, the newspaper said.
An official of the Korean committee told the JoongAng Daily on Wednesday that the radioactivity issue will be raised at the upcoming meeting. “It is inevitable. We expect other countries will also raise concerns, since this is an important topic of international discussion,” he said.
With one year left, concerns are also evident in the international community. The Nation, a weekly magazine in the United States, published a report titled, “Is Fukushima Safe for the Olympics?” on July 25.
After visiting the city where baseball and softball games will take place, the reporters concluded, “Fukushima is not yet safe, and no amount of sunny rhetoric from Olympic bigwigs as well as Japanese politicians can make it so.”
According to the report, journalists traveled to the city with Professor Fujita Yasumoto, who carried a dosimeter, which measures levels of radiation.
“With two hours to drive before hitting Fukushima, his dosimeter read 0.04; anything above 0.23, he told us, was unsafe,” The Nation said. “The needle jumped further as we approached the nuclear plants and attendant cleanup operations. Outside the Decommissioning Archive Center, it moved into unsafe territory with a 0.46 reading before spiking to a truly alarming 3.77 as we approached Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1 reactor, one of three that melted down. The Olympic torch run is currently scheduled to pass through some of these high-contamination areas.”
An international campaign was also organized to show concerns. “Tokyo 2020 - The Radioactive Olympics” was launched last month by a group of anti-nuclear organizations in Germany, Switzerland, France and Japan.
“We are concerned about the health consequences of radioactive contamination, especially for people with increased vulnerability to radiation, such as pregnant women and children,” said Dr. Alex Rosen, chairman of the German affiliate of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, one of the principal organizations behind the campaign.
Over 20 petitions were also posted on the Blue House’s public petition board as of Wednesday demanding Korea boycott the Games.
While the ruling party is fueling the boycott idea, the Moon Jae-in administration maintains its a decision beyond the government.
“It is not something the government can decide,” said Presidential Chief of Staff Noh Young-min when an opposition Liberty Korea Party lawmaker asked if the government is considering a boycott during a National Assembly hearing on Tuesday. “It is for the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee to decide, based on the international spirit of the Olympics.”
BY SER MYO-JA, KANG YOO-RIM AND KIM KYUNG-HEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]