Editorial: IOC President Bach to visit Hiroshima, but is he ready to commit to nuclear abolition?

Today, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach, who is in Japan for the Tokyo Olympic Games, is to visit Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, located in the city’s Naka Ward. He is expected to lay flowers at the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims and tour Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. IOC Vice President John Coates will pay a visit to Nagasaki, the other A-bombed city.

The cities share the hope that as many visitors as possible can visit the cities and gain insight into the tragedies of the atomic bombings. But it’s likely many residents of the cities are perplexed at news of the visit.

Why are the IOC executives visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic? If they had wanted to emphasize that the Olympic Games are a “celebration of peace,” they could have planned to come again when spread of the virus is no longer a concern. There should be no tolerance for an Olympic Games that takes advantage of the cities’ images to justify the holding the event under the difficult circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Bach came to Japan on July 8 and has been staying in Tokyo, which is now under that municipality’s fourth state of emergency. The Hiroshima Prefectural government has been calling on its residents to minimize travel between the prefecture and areas that are under a state of emergency.

Although it is feared that holding the Olympics could lead to the further spread of the coronavirus, Mr. Bach has said the Japanese people need not worry, stressing that measures have been devised to keep apart residents of Japan and people involved with the Tokyo Olympics. Contrary to his pronouncement, however, some people associated with the Olympics were filmed by the media walking around the city. Flaws in such measures have thus come into focus, leading to uncontrollable unease among the public.

The timing of the visit to the A-bombed cities, July 16, is believed to be because that date marks the beginning of the “Olympic Truce,” a resolution adopted by the United Nations. The IOC executives seem to be visiting the A-bombed cities with an eye to exhibiting their efforts to contribute to peace through sport.

But 76 years ago today, the United States conducted the first nuclear test in human history in the U.S. state of New Mexico, in what marked the start of the deplorable nuclear age. Shortly thereafter, atomic bombs were dropped on the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, resulting in the loss of innumerable lives.

The IOC visitors should have used their imagination. If they are to utilize the A-bombed cities to advocate for peace, they must be determined to call for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

The red carpet will be laid out for Mr. Bach, similar to what then U.S. President Barack Obama experienced when he visited the city. Hiroshima Governor Hidehiko Yuzaki will greet him, but ordinary visitors are prohibited from entering the park or the museum while Mr. Bach is there.

Mr. Bach will also reportedly meet with elderly A-bomb survivors. We hope he has a chance to listen to their accounts of A-bombing experiences, but we also worry about whether measures to prevent COVID-19 are sufficiently comprehensive. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, A-bomb survivors have not been able to share their experiences in face-to-face meetings with the public. Many schools have postponed or canceled school trips, giving up on the idea of listening to A-bomb survivors speak in person. Some schools have decided to hold online gatherings in an attempt to avoid contact with other people. Uncomfortable is the fact that, despite that situation, Mr. Bach has clearly been given preferential treatment.

The number of people signing an online petition calling for cancellation of Mr. Bach’s visit to Hiroshima continues to grow. If he visits the city in disregard of such opposition, he must not avert his gaze from the human tragedy wrought by nuclear weapons. He should be prepared to use the platform of Hiroshima to at least declare that future Olympic Games will not be held in nuclear-weapons states. While he is in Hiroshima, it is hoped he will pledge to change the heavily commercialized Olympic Games into a true “celebration of peace.”

Will Mr. Bach speak to the issue of elimination of nuclear weapons? How will he make the most of his visit to the A-bombed cities for handling future Olympic Games? Mr. Bach should not forget that he will be under the close scrutiny of people who are working to pursue a world free of nuclear weapons in the A-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and elsewhere.

(Originally published on July 16, 2021)