Tennis-Osaka says risk of staging Olympics must be carefully weighed

FILE PHOTO: Tennis - Australian Open - Women's Singles Final - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, February 20, 2021 Japan's Naomi Osaka after winning her final match against Jennifer Brady of the U.S. REUTERS/Kelly Defina/File Photo

(Reuters) - Japan's Naomi Osaka said on Sunday that while she has spent her entire life waiting to compete at the Olympics, the risks of holding the Tokyo Games amid the raging COVID-19 pandemic should continue to be carefully discussed.

Opinion surveys have shown that most Japanese oppose holding the Games this summer due to worries about the coronavirus, and Tokyo itself is currently under a state of emergency to tame a rise in infections.

Osaka, the world number two women's tennis player and one of Japan's top athletes, said staging the Games should remain a topic of discussion as long as the subject was "making people very uncomfortable".

"Of course I want the Olympics to happen, but I think there's so much important stuff going on, especially the past year," she told a news conference ahead of the Italian Open. "A lot of unexpected things have happened.

"For me, I feel like if it's putting people at risk... then it definitely should be a discussion, which I think it is as of right now. At the end of the day I'm just an athlete, and there is a whole pandemic going on, so, yeah."

Japan has recorded more than 600,000 coronavirus cases and more than 10,500 deaths, but its inoculation campaign has been relatively slow so far, with only about 2% of the population of about 126 million having received at least one vaccine dose.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga promised on Friday to fast-track the government's vaccination drive, saying it aimed to administer 1 million shots a day.

Osaka, who at the age of 23 has won both the U.S. Open and Australian Open twice, said she had already been vaccinated against COVID-19, and added that it would not be right to "force" people to get inoculated.

"There is going to be a lot of people entering the country so they definitely have to make the right decisions on that," she said.

"I've gotten vaccinated (but) I think that at the end of the day you can't force anyone to be vaccinated."

(Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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