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Japan’s leader on Thursday acknowledged that it has been difficult to sell the Olympics to a skeptical public amid the COVID-19 pandemic in his first-ever interview with an American outlet.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he was worried that “public opinion was so divided” about the postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but felt Japan must “fulfill our obligation to the rest of the world,” according to NBC.

“Over 4 billion spectators will be watching these games and I believe that besting or beating COVID-19 and overcoming the difficulties of COVID-19 to go ahead with the games and convene the games,” Suga told the network through an interpreter on the eve of the Olympics. “I think that that has value in itself.”

About 70 percent of Japanese citizens think that the games should be postponed again or canceled amid a recent surge in COVID-19 infections, according to a poll this week by Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he was happy to welcome first lady Jill Biden to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Kyodo News/Sipa USA

The amount of spectators at events have been sharply limited as Tokyo emerged from a COVID-19 state of emergency.

Suga said he was happy to welcome first lady Jill Biden to the Games and applauded the policies of President Biden.

“For Japan, our only true ally is America,” he reportedly said. “In that sense, in terms of the impact, I am incredibly pleased to have the first lady come to Japan and want to welcome her warmly.”

Suga remained diplomatic when asked to predict if Japan would take home more Olympic gold that the US.

“We are the hosting country and the Japanese people are quite modest,” Suga told NBC. “Therefore, we want to share the medals with everyone.”

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