An outspoken central Japan mayor has faced a barrage of criticism for abruptly biting the Olympic gold medal won by a member of the Japanese women's softball team at a celebratory event, with the act described as "lacking respect" for her and "insensitive" amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura's stunt occurred Wednesday when Miu Goto, a 20-year-old pitcher hailing from the city, visited the municipal government following the team's victory over the United States at the ongoing Tokyo Olympics.
When Goto put the medal around the neck of Kawamura, the 72-year-old mayor first grabbed it and said, "It's heavy," before taking off his mask and suddenly biting it without asking her permission.
The image of Kawamura's medal-biting went viral on social media, sparking a backlash against him not only from her supporters and Olympic fans but also from top athletes.
"I myself have been careful not to scratch my gold medal," Judoka Naohisa Takato, who won gold at the Tokyo Olympics, said on Twitter. "Goto has too big a heart. I would've cried."
Yuki Ota, Japan's first Olympic fencing medalist, said Kawamura's behavior is out of the question.
"First, he lacks respect for the athletes who had to put their medals around their own necks or ask their teammates to do so as part of anti-infection measures. And now he bites the medal? It's inconceivable to me."
Toyota Motor Corp., which owns the club team Goto plays for, has also criticized Kawamura, saying in a statement, "It was an unworthy act and lacked respect" for the athlete's long-running efforts that helped the national softball team clinch victory.
"We truly hope (the mayor) will behave (appropriately) as a leader," said the company based in Toyota, near Nagoya.
The Nagoya city office was flooded with over 4,000 complaints, forcing Kawamura to apologize.
"I saw the gold medal that I had admired and acted on impulse," Kawamura told reporters. "I made the symbol of years and years of hard work dirty. I apologize from the bottom of my heart."
Some questioned whether athletes need to meet the mayor of their hometown to report on their achievements.
"Why would they need to make a courtesy call in the first place?" tweeted Kosuke Kitajima, a double gold medalist in the men's 100- and 200-meter breaststroke at both the 2004 Athens Olympics and the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The mayor also spoke with Yasuhiro Yamashita, president of the Japanese Olympic Committee, over the phone on Thursday to say sorry and also sent a letter of apology to Toyota.