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Toyota pulls games-related TV ads ahead of Tokyo Olympics

Toyota chief executive Akio Toyoda will be skipping the opening ceremony.

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MUMBAI: On the back of the Olympics organising committee revealing three more Covid-positive cases in its daily update of COVID-19 list, the Games’ top sponsor Toyota declared its decision to not air any Olympics-themed advertisements on Japanese television during the Tokyo Games.

The unprecedented decision by the country’s top automaker underscores how polarising the 2020 Olympic Games have become in Japan, as COVID-19 infections rise ahead of Friday’s opening ceremony. The total number of Games-related cases now stands at 58.

“There are many issues with these Games that are proving difficult to be understood,” Toyota chief communications officer Jun Nagata told the media.

Chief executive Akio Toyoda, the company founder’s grandson, will be skipping the opening ceremony. That’s despite about 200 athletes who are affiliated with Toyota taking part in the Olympics and Paralympics, including swimmer Takeshi Kawamoto and softball player Miu Goto.

Nagata said the company will continue to support its athletes.

One Olympics concerned personnel and a contractor were among three COVID-19 cases detected on Monday by the Games organisers, a day after three sportspersons, two of them staying at the athletes' village, tested positive for the virus.

The Games will be held behind closed doors as infections soar in the Japanese capital, which has been recording more than 1,000 cases per day for the past few days. So while being a corporate sponsor for the Olympics is usually all about using the games as a platform to enhance the brand, being linked with a pandemic-era Games may be viewed by some as a potential marketing problem.

Tokyo 2020 spokesperson, Masa Takaya said sponsors each make their own decisions on their messages while noting that there is a mixed public sentiment in Japan towards the Games. "I need to emphasise that those partners and companies have been very supportive of Tokyo 2020. They are passionate about making these Games happen," Takaya said.

Toyota Motor Corp signed on as a worldwide Olympic sponsor in 2015, in an eight-year deal reportedly worth nearly $ one billion, becoming the first car company to join the IOC’s top-tier marketing program.

The sponsorship, which started globally in 2017, runs through the 2024 Olympics, covering three consecutive Olympics in Asia, including the Tokyo Games.

The Tokyo Olympics, already delayed by a year, are going ahead despite the Japanese capital being under a state of emergency. It's already virtually a made-for-TV Olympics with most events, including the opening ceremony, going ahead without fans in the venues. Some dignitaries, such as IOC President Thomas Bach and Emperor Naruhito, are likely to attend.

Public opinion surveys reflect widespread concern among Japanese people about having tens of thousands of Olympic participants enter the country during a pandemic, with some already having tested positive for COVID.

Meanwhile, the first batch of athletes from the Indian contingent has already checked in at the village.

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