translated and edited by Brett Larner
Click here to let Hiroshi Neko know how you feel about his Olympic plans directly.
Having secured a place on the Cambodian Olympic team in the men's marathon following a transfer of nationality in November, voices have begun to speak out online against comedian Hiroshi Neko, 34, calling for him to "get out of the Olympics." There are plenty of examples of athletes changing nationality, but Neko is not that quality of a marathoner and his naming to the Cambodian team "steals" a place from an actual Cambodian athlete, so talk calling the whole thing a disgrace and asking what exactly Cambodia stands to benefit has begun to circulate.
Neko has been running seriously for four years. On Feb. 5 he finished 50th at the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, taking seven minutes off his best time to set a new PB of 2:30:26. With zero Cambodian track and field athletes having cleared the Olympic qualifying standards the door was open for Neko to be chosen for the single men's "special exemption" ticket available to Cambodia. He was chosen on that basis. He plans to remain based in Japan for training until the Olympics and to continue with his career as a comedian, travelling to Cambodia for races when the need arises.
Neko held a press conference in Tokyo on Mar. 26 to announce his nomination to the Olympic team. At the conference he declared, "I'll stay a comedian all the way until I'm standing on the Olympic starting line." He said he plans to start the race with his characteristic "Meow!" gag for the cameras and has the best stunt of his career planned for the finish line. His place on the Olympic team won't be officially ratified by the Cambodian Olympic Committee until mid-April, but momentum to "Get Hiroshi Neko out of the Olympics" has already begun build up online over suspicions about what is underlying this drive to go as far as permitting a transfer of nationality in order to put someone not qualified to be in the Olympics into the race. Other voices are calling for a "former" Japanese national not to bring disgrace to the nation of Cambodia. Among the criticisms to have appeared online:
"There is no reason to pick Hiroshi Neko. None at all."Opposition to Neko appearing in the Olympics is not limited to the online world, however. Two-time Olympic marathon medalist Yuko Arimori, 45, whose charity is deeply involved in supporting Cambodia and Cambodian athletes, including bringing top Cambodian marathoners to compete in Japanese races, was very critical in a recent interview in a major newspaper, saying
"If he's on the Cambodian Olympic team then he should get out of Japan and go live in Cambodia and show some support for his new country."
"The problems with this are that it's all a publicity stunt, it's obvious that there is money changing hands, it's a theft of an Olympic place on another country's team, and doing gags and comedy routines at an important sports event like the Olympics is a declaration of contempt for it and the other athletes."
"There are Cambodian athletes working hard right now to qualify for the Olympic team and I really wanted them to make it, so seeing the powers that be give away the place on the team to a Japanese person makes me very sorry for those athletes."Writing in the Mar. 17, 2012 issue of Weekly Gendai magazine, novelist Ayako Sono, 80, wrote that if Neko is officially confirmed for the Olympics after changing his citizenship to become Cambodian it is not an act that any reasonable, commonsensical person could even consider acceptable. In strong words she wrote that the person changing their nationality will face the consequences of this action for the rest of their life, closing with:
"If he is going into this thinking lightheartedly that he can just change back to being a Japanese citizen after the Olympics then that triviality, that flippancy and shamelessness, makes me feel that there is no limit to how far we Japanese will debase ourselves."