Olympic medallist Kaori Yamaguchi hit out at organisers of this year's Olympics ©Getty Images

Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) Executive Board member Kaori Yamaguchi has slammed Tokyo 2020 organisers for ignoring public opposition and claims her country has been "cornered" into staging this year’s Olympic and Paralympics Games.

The Olympics look set to open in less than 50 days’ time against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and despite widespread concern among Japanese people.

Several surveys carried out in Japan have highlighted public opposition to staging the Olympics and Paralympics this year, while a petition calling for the cancellation of the Games reached 350,000 signatures in just nine days last month.

But Yamaguchi, who won judo bronze at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, believes the opinion of Japanese citizens is "not important" to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and criticised the organisation over a lack of dialogue, claiming the Games have now "lost meaning".

In an outspoken editorial published by Kyodo News, Yamaguchi wrote: "Were not the Olympics supposed to be a festival of peace?

"Working for peace is not an easy task.

"It begins with tenaciously engaging in dialogue with people who hold diverse views.

"If we abandon this process, then the Olympics have no meaning.

"The opposite of peace is a hard-line, stubborn approach based on the view that 'people may be saying all kinds of things, but once the Olympics start it'll be fine.'

"I understand the organisers may be feeling flustered as the opening of the Olympics draws near, but there are processes that must not be skipped."

The Japan National Stadium is set to host the Olympic Opening Ceremony in less than 50 days' time ©Getty Images
The Japan National Stadium is set to host the Olympic Opening Ceremony in less than 50 days' time ©Getty Images

Tokyo is among a number of Japanese prefectures under a state of emergency in a bid to curb rising COVID-19 cases.

IOC vice-president John Coates said last month that the Games would be able to take place should those strict measures be in force at the time of the event - a statement which "shocked" Japanese people according to Yamaguchi .

It has been reported that cancelling the Olympics and Paralympics would cost Japan ¥1.81 trillion (£11.73 billion/$16.57 billion/€13.59 billion) and would also have a huge financial impact on the IOC.

With the Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony set to take place on July 23, Yamaguchi conceded it was too late to stop the Games from taking place.

"At the time of the bid, the IOC said that public opinion is important, but now it is clear that even if it concerns the IOC, it has no impact on its decisions," Yamaguchi wrote.

"What will these Olympics be for and for whom?

"The Games have already lost meaning and are being held just for the sake of them.

"I believe we have already missed the opportunity to cancel.

"It would require too much energy to make and follow through with such a decision.

"We have been cornered into a situation where we cannot even stop now.

"We are damned if we do, and damned if we do not."

Yamaguchi believes the Olympics may "stir our emotions" but it will leave people with "a bitter aftertaste".

IOC President Thomas Bach claims that more than 80 per cent of people in the Athletes' Village will be vaccinated.

The IOC last month signed a deal with developers of the Pfizer vaccine in a bid to boost the number of vaccinated athletes competing at the Games.

IOC vice-president John Coates has been criticised by some for saying that the Games could be held while Tokyo was under a state of emergency ©Getty Images
IOC vice-president John Coates has been criticised by some for saying that the Games could be held while Tokyo was under a state of emergency ©Getty Images

The JOC is benefitting from this scheme, with around 200 athletes receiving doses on the opening day of the programme.

Japan has fully vaccinated just three per cent of its population but is aiming to inoculate the all residents aged 65 or older - about 36 million people - by the end of July.

"It is truly a shame that the vaccination rollout in Japan has been slow," said Yamaguchi.

"I cannot help but wish that it had started two months earlier.

"The Government has insisted that vaccinating its population was not a prerequisite to holding the Olympics from the start.

"Japan's Olympic minister Tamayo Marukawa had continued to deny that even athletes needed to be vaccinated.

"I have no intention of blaming the Government for how it has responded to a virus with which it had no experience.

"However, if it is going to change its policy, it should first retract its previous statements before moving forward.

"Otherwise, its statements will lose credibility and trust.

"The anxiety and distrust concerning the Olympics stem largely from this absence of a trusting relationship."

Overseas fans have been banned from attending the Olympics and Paralympics to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

A decision on the presence of Japanese spectators is expected to be made later this month, with state-of-emergency measures in 10 areas including Tokyo set to expire on June 20 - although it is possible that they are extended.

The number of Games visitors from abroad has been reduced to 59,000, compared to the expected 180,000 from last year.

It was also confirmed that 10,000 of the 80,000 Tokyo 2020 volunteers had quit, largely because of COVID-19 concerns.

Tokyo reported 472 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, with Japan registering 1,198 in total today.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics are scheduled to run from July 23 to August 8, before the Paralympics take place between August 24 and September 5.