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Former Hiroshima mayor and 120 advocacy groups petition the IOC to hold a minute of silence for 1945 atomic bomb victims

IOC President Bach lays a wreath at the Cenotaph in Hiroshima on July 16. (IOC/Greg Martin) (Greg Martin/)

Tadatoshi Akiba, Mayor of Hiroshima from 1999 to 2011, renewed his call for the International Olympic Committee to hold a moment of silence on August 6th at 8:15am, which would commemorate the 76th anniversary of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

A Change.org petition started by Akiba in support of this goal has gained upwards of 16,800 signatures so far as of August 4th. One hundred-twenty NGOs and advocacy groups also signed a letter on Tuesday endorsing Akiba’s petition, notable among which were Nonviolence International, Veterans for Peace and the World Future Council. Used by the United States at the end of World War II, the two atomic bombs killed an estimated 210,000 people in Japan, and so far remain the only instances of nuclear weapons being used in combat.

“The Olympics have carried the sign “Festival of Peace.” It is also well known that the “Olympic Truce” was held at the ancient Olympic Games. This time, the Olympic Games are being held in Japan, which means that the experience of the atomic bombing of “Hiroshima / Nagasaki” and the messages of the hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) symbolize global peace”, Akiba’s public appeal to the IOC reads.

“This year’s August 6th marks the 76th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, which happens to be two days before the final day of the Tokyo Olympic Games… Why not turn it into action by letting everyone, including all the athletes, staff, and other participants, stand in silence for a minute to remember the victims of all past wars and wish for the realization of world peace with the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons?”

At a press conference on Wednesday, Akiba reiterated his hope for Games participants being allowed to take a moment of silence, stating: “Since the world will be observing silence at 8:15 on August 6th, the athletes and their actions can become a catalyst to get all the peace-loving people, wishes and hopes together for a world without nuclear weapons and lasting peace”. He further revealed that he wrote the IOC a formal request letter on Tuesday, and urged individual athletes who support the proposal to lobby the IOC for its adoption.

Alyn Ware, the Global Coordinator for Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament and a supporter of Akiba’s effort, argued at the same press conference that holding a commemoration of the atomic bombs’ victims would not run afoul of IOC rules prohibiting political protest.

“We would see this not as a protest as such. A moment of silence is a dignified commemoration and an honoring”, Ware told reporters. “This is not out of the blue, we saw in the Winter Olympics in 2018 that there was a different recognition of the Olympic Truce, where the Korean peace process was initiated through the Games in Pyeongchang, and this had the support of the IOC and Korean Olympic Committee… It’s not out of the ordinary to have a peace initiative framed in a positive and respectful way”.

“If there is something organized by the IOC, the athletes know they can do [the moment of silence] without being penalized. Without that, the athletes are in a very difficult position”, Ware acknowledged.

Hiroshima’s current Mayor, Kazumi Matsui, has likewise been asking the IOC to hold a moment of silence, sending IOC President Thomas Bach a letter to that effect on July 28th. Given that Bach had visited Hiroshima shortly before the Games, city officials were hopeful that he would be receptive to the idea. However, the IOC has so far refused to grant either Matsui’s or Akiba’s requests.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach places a flower wreath as he visits the Hiroshima Memorial Cenotaph in Hiroshima, Japan July 16, 2021. Eugene Hoshiko/Pool via REUTERS
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach places a flower wreath as he visits the Hiroshima Memorial Cenotaph in Hiroshima, Japan July 16, 2021. Eugene Hoshiko/Pool via REUTERS (POOL/)

IOC spokesperson Mark Adams addressed the issue at a Tuesday press conference, saying: “We went to Hiroshima before the Games as a deep sign of respect. We hope it was understood in that way. That’s how it was intended. There will be a moment of remembrance and reflection in the closing ceremony for people to reflect on these issues but I think in general the IOC is a sporting organization, but it’s also in very many ways a peace organization”. He added that President Bach had sent a response to Mayor Matsui, the contents of which are not known at this time.

The IOC has traditionally been reluctant to recognize politically charged tragedies during the Olympic program. At Tokyo’s Olympic opening ceremony last month, a moment of silence was held for the 11 Israeli team members massacred by Palestinian gunmen at the 1972 Games – after families of the victims had been urging the IOC to do so for 49 years.

Akiba, who also backed an unsuccessful effort to commemorate the bombing of Hiroshima during the Rio 2016 opening ceremony, nonetheless remains undeterred.

“I would like to continue the signature campaign until the morning of August 6th, because there is a chance that the IOC and Organizing Committee can change their mind at that point”, he said.

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