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Toyota And Other Big Olympics Sponsors Are Downplaying Their Ties To The Games

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Photo by Noriko Hayashi Bloomberg via Getty Images

Toyota, Panasonic and other big Japanese firms are distancing themselves from the Tokyo Olympics, despite spending millions to sponsor the Games. Here, guide lines are seen on the floor inside National Stadium, the main venue for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

After spending hundreds of millions of dollars to sponsor the Tokyo Olympics, some of Japan's biggest corporations are now canceling advertising, scaling back promotional events, and scrapping plans for executives to attend the upcoming opening ceremony.

It's part of an apparent effort by the companies to distance themselves from a largely fan-free spectacle — an event that many Japanese think should not be taking place in the middle of a pandemic.

On Tuesday, electronics giant Panasonic said its CEO would not attend the Games' kick-off on Friday. Telecom and IT firms NTT, NEC and Fujitsu announced similar plans for their executives.

One day earlier, automaker Toyota said its CEO, Akio Toyoda, would not attend the opening ceremony, despite being a key sponsor of the Games. The company is also canceling its Olympic-related advertising in Japan.

All the firms explained their decisions by noting that spectators are banned from most Olympic events. But corporate sponsors, foreign dignitaries and other VIPs will be allowed, at least at the opening ceremony.

Toyota's Chief Communications Officer Jun Nagata told reporters Monday that the auto company decided to pull its ads from Japan's media market in part because, "for various reasons," the Games lack popular support.

The implication is clear: some 60 Japanese corporate sponsors are paying a record $3 billion to associate their products with an event that is normally popular and widely watched. But the latest poll by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper shows that 58% of respondents in Tokyo oppose holding the Games.

On a national level, 68% of respondents said they don't believe organizers' assertions that the international competition can be held safely.

Tokyo and other regions are under a fourth state of emergency, to combat a new wave of coronavirus infections. Despite safety protocols and organizers' pledge of holding a safe and secure games, 67 Olympic-related infections have been reported as of Tuesday.

Some sponsors have canceled promotional booths outside sporting venues, as there will be no spectators to visit them. Others have expressed frustration at the uncertainty and chaos that has dogged preparations.

One such example was organizers' controversial announcement last month, before spectators were widely banned, that alcohol would be sold at Olympic venues. The decision was reversed the next day. But many Japanese were initially outraged at the idea that alcohol would be sold at the Games, while their own neighborhood bars and restaurants would still be prohibited from serving alcohol.

There were also suspicions that Asahi Breweries, which had exclusive rights to sell beer at the Games, had influenced the original decision. Asahi's executives are among those skipping the Olympics' opening ceremony.

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