Celebrating a gold medalist’s win? Fine. Borrowing someone’s gold medal for a sweet photo op? Permissible. But biting it? Now, some might call that downright nasty.
Following reports that a Japanese mayor bit softball Olympian Miu Goto’s gold medal, Olympic organizers have decided to replace the slobbered one with a new, untarnished accolade, Japanese broadcaster Nippon TV reported on Wednesday. On Thursday afternoon, the mayor said he’d like to pay for the replacement medal himself, although it’s unclear yet if the organizers would take him up on his offer.
During a ceremony celebrating the softball team’s accomplishments last Wednesday, Nagoya mayor Takashi Kawamura pulled down his mask to chomp down on the athlete’s gold medal.
Kawamura was ironically standing in front of a backdrop highlighting measures to contain the coronavirus. Many criticized his behavior as disrespectful and unhygienic as the country combats its worst surge in COVID-19 cases.
“I don’t know what the relationship between these two are, but in addition to a clear lack of respect for this athlete, he had no regard for coronavirus protocols,” Yuki Ota, a Japanese fencing medallist and current member of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, said in a tweet.
On Twitter, the Japanese word for “germ medal” was a top trending hashtag. The Japanese character for germ, kin, is a homophone that can also mean gold.
Toyota, the corporate team Goto plays for, called Kawamura’s actions inappropriate and said the mayor did not “show any respect and honor to the athlete, and it’s regrettable he didn’t give any consideration to infection prevention,” it said in a statement.
On Aug. 5, the day after the incident, the 72-year-old mayor issued a televised apology. “I acknowledge that I’ve dirtied the athlete’s gold medal, which she worked years to receive. I apologize from the bottom of my heart for making her and others feel uncomfortable and causing troubles to them,” he said.
But the damage was already done. In the week following Kawamura’s apology, Nagoya city hall received over 7,200 emails and phone calls expressing disapproval of the mayor’s actions, according to Japanese public broadcaster NHK.
Facing public anger, Kawamura said he’d no longer be attending a Tokyo Paralympic torch event on Sunday. The deputy mayor of Nagoya will attend the ceremony on his behalf.