With confusion, welcome for IOC president’s Hiroshima visit, survivors and local officials express doubts about Games, call for nuclear-abolition message

When it was determined on July 13 that International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach would visit Hiroshima City on July 16, A-bomb survivors groups and local government officials responded to the news by expressing their mixed feelings of bemusement and welcome. As the number of coronavirus cases is on the rise again in the Tokyo metropolitan area, some called for tight measures to prevent further spread of the virus during the visit and others expressed their doubts about the holding of the Tokyo Olympic Games.

With the coronavirus pandemic in mind, Tomoyuki Mimaki, 79, acting chair of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Hiroshima Prefectural Hidankyo, chaired by Sunao Tsuboi), remarked that, “With the current situation different from that at the time of the visits by then U.S. President Barack Obama and Pope Francis, I have doubts about Mr. Bach’s visit.” Based on the premise that thorough measures would be adopted to prevent spread of the coronavirus, he added, “I would like him to see the Peace Museum’s exhibit of the belongings of children and listen to survivors recounting their A-bombing experiences. I hope he can sense the threat of nuclear weapons and send out a message to the world calling for their elimination.”

Kunihiko Sakuma, 76, chair of the other Hiroshima Prefectural Hidankyo, shared his mixed feelings. “As many people have died due to the coronavirus, the holding of the Olympic Games itself is problematic. A-bomb survivors may be of different opinions, but I don’t think a visit to Hiroshima is advisable at present. If he were to come at a different time, I would welcome him.”

Takashi Hiraoka, 93, former Hiroshima City mayor who lives in the city’s Nishi Ward, said, “If Mr. Bach hopes for peace, he should put humans’ lives first and refrain from holding the Olympic Games, an event that could further spread the coronavirus. I suspect the IOC might try to take advantage of Hiroshima to make an appeal that ‘the Olympic spirit is the celebration of peace,’ while hiding its commercialism.” He also noted, “The city of Hiroshima should make it clear that it won’t turn anyone away, but that it also doesn’t want to be exploited.”

Tomoko Watanabe, 67, executive director of ANT-Hiroshima, a non-profit organization engaged in international peace efforts, said, “I hope Mr. Bach will carefully tour the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, and in front of the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims, vow to contribute to the elimination of nuclear weapons for the sake of future generations of children. If he is prepared to do so with that consciousness and mindset, his visit would be meaningful as the head of a celebration of peace.”

Hiroshima Prefecture Governor Hidehiko Yuzaki and Hiroshima City Mayor Kazumi Matsui released separate comments about the issue. Mr. Yuzaki requested that he wanted Mr. Bach “to deeply understand the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons as well as send out a powerful message for achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.” Mr. Matsui mentioned that he “would welcome the visit by Mr. Bach, as it represents a valuable opportunity to convey to the world’s sports community the spirit of Hiroshima’s hopes for lasting world peace.”

On the same day, the Hiroshima prefectural chapter of the Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs (Gensuikyo) sent to the Japan Olympic Committee (JOC) a statement opposing Mr. Bach’s visit to Hiroshima.

(Originally published on July 14, 2021)