Tokyo Olympic organizers force removal of coronavirus parody

A cover design for the magazine Number 1 Shimbun combined the Tokyo 2020 logo with features of the COVID-19 virus.
(Eugene Hoshiko / Associated Press)

At first, it seems, no one paid much attention to the April issue of a small magazine published by foreign journalists in Japan, but then Tokyo Olympic organizers got a look at the cover.

The artwork added familiar-looking spikes to Tokyo 2020’s circular logo, transforming it into the COVID-19 virus.

On Thursday, with organizers threatening to sue and the incident swelling to international proportions, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan agreed to pull the month-old image from its website.


“Clearly the cover offended some people in our host country of Japan,” club president Khaldon Azhari said at a 90-minute news conference.

2020 Tokyo Olympics logo
A controversial magazine cover combined the 2020 Tokyo Olympics logo (above) ...
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

COVID-19 virus
... with some features of the COVID-19 virus.
(CDC / Alissa Eckert, MS, Dan Hig)

The parody struck a nerve in a country where the coronavirus outbreak has forced organizers to postpone the Tokyo Olympics until the summer of 2021.

The delay could cost billions of dollars and there is concern the Games might ultimately be canceled. International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach told the BBC on Thursday that a further postponement would probably not be possible.

“There is the clear commitment to having these Games in July next year,” he said.

When the Tokyo Olympic committee became aware of the cover for Number 1 Shimbun, the FCCJ magazine, it claimed copyright infringement. The controversy soon went global, picked up by news agencies around world.

The International Olympic Committee could lose as much as $800 million as a result of the Tokyo Olympics being postponed because of the coronavirus.

Attorneys advised the club that its defense against copyright infringement “was not strong.” Still, Azhari added a note of defiance to his public statement.

“In the media in Japan, many of my colleagues, we feel very much annoyed by the restrictions on parody,” he said, adding: “I hope this incident will be a very good chance ... to open a good discussion about this issue.”