TOKYO -- International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach visited Hiroshima on Friday, but his prayers for peace were met with protests.
During his one-day trip, Bach went to Hiroshima's peace memorial park and museum and met some survivors of the atomic bomb that devastated the western Japanese city on August 6, 1945. On the same day, the IOC vice president John Coates visited Nagasaki, which that fell victim to a nuclear detonation three days later.
"I am here to pay respect to Hiroshima, the city of peace and to all the people of Hiroshima. I am here to reaffirm our peace mission in the Olympic movement," Bach said in a speech. "Seven days from now, the Olympic athletes from 205 National Olympic Committees and the IOC refugee Olympic team will send a resounding message from Tokyo, and Japan to the world. We need more solidarity, more solidarity within societies, and more solidarity among societies. Without solidarity, there is no peace."
Hiroshima Gov. Hidehiko Yuzaki welcomed Bach on behalf of the Hiroshima people. "I would like him to send a strong message toward the realization of peace world without nuclear weapons from Hiroshima to the world."
But Yuzaki's appreciation of the IOC chief's visit is not shared by all.
A civil organization in Hiroshima that has sought the cancellation of the Games filed a petition on Monday to the prefectural office, asking for Bach's visit to be stopped.
The Hiroshima unit of the Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs has also issued a statement of protest, claiming Bach is using Hiroshima for political purposes. Nearly 70,000 people have signed an online petition to cancel the German's visit.
The visit is in stark contrast to that of other global figures, such as former U.S. President Barack Obama and Pope Francis, who visited Hiroshima to warm welcomes. Bach's pilgrimage will be quieter than those trips, both due to the COVID-19 pandemic and muted interest in the Olympics.
Toshiyuki Mimaki, a 79-year-old atomic bomb survivor, said he would have welcomed Bach from the bottom of his heart if there had not been a pandemic. "The situation in Hiroshima is finally getting back to normal. I'm afraid that the officials and media coming from Tokyo might bring in virus," Mimaki said, referring to the current surge in the Japanese capital.
At the age of three, Mimaki was taken to Hiroshima after his hometown of Tokyo was turned to rubble in a series of firebombing raids. He and his family were hit again when the atomic bomb fell.
When he was 22, Mimaki visited Tokyo in 1964 to see how the Olympics had changed a capital devastated by the war. He managed to watch some events. "I felt the vivid atmosphere that Japan was getting better," he recalled.
But he has little enthusiasm for this summer's Olympics. "Rumors say Bach is aiming for the Nobel Peace Prize. If that is his motivation to visit Hiroshima, it really turns us off," he added.
On Wednesday, Bach pledged to Japanese Prime Minister Suga that the Olympics will not bring risks for the Japanese people. He said 85% of the athletes and officials who will live in the Olympic Village, and almost 100% of the IOC Members and IOC staff, are either vaccinated or immune.
The Olympic Village quietly opened on Wednesday without ceremony. Organizers said there were only three positive COVID-19 test results after arrival among more than 8,000 people involved in the Games who have so far come to Japan.
Bach said: "The Japanese people can have confidence in all the efforts we are undertaking to make these games for them to secure and safe with all the intensive most COVID countermeasures, with the great vaccination program we have been undertaking worldwide."
"The IOC is sitting in the same boat and we are rowing in the same direction," he added.
But putting the debate aside, Mimaki said he hopes Bach will convey a message of peace to the world on his visit to Hiroshima.
"I want him to feel the fear of nuclear weapons and send a message to the world that encourages to abolish them," Mimaki added.