Japan’s Olympic Host Towns Pull Out Over Coronavirus Pandemic

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Hundreds of Japanese towns and cities have been forced to rethink plans to host Olympic teams because the coronavirus will prevent public appearances and require costly safety measures. The western town of Okuizumo spent more than $5 million preparing to welcome India’s hockey team for a pre-Games training camp, only to scrap the visit on account of Covid-19.

After sinking money into upgrading sports facilities, Okuizomo balked when it became lucid it must supply bubble-like biosecurity measures with steady virus tests and medical care.

“We wanted to have one of the crucial world’s top tier teams visit our town and show their skills to native children,” town official Katsumi Nagase told AFP.

“But that seems unattainable now.”

More than 500 municipalities signed up to host athletes and officials in a scheme aimed at broadening the Olympics’ benefits beyond Tokyo.

Some, like Okuizumo, have already scrapped plans to host out of the country athletes, while others are devising careful programmes they hope will retain everyone secure.

Instead of giving residents the chance to meet elite athletes and take a look at out new sports, towns must ditch any physical contact, school visits and public training sessions.

Kurihara city in northern Miyagi prefecture used to be planning to host South Africa’s hockey team, but made up our minds the expense used to be no longer worth it provided the limitations imposed by virus measures.

“It is a project that will use our tax resources,” Hidenori Sasaki, an official with the native board of education, told AFP.

“Whether it becomes just athletes holding a training camp without any exchanges with native residents, native citizens may not enjoy the advantages.”

In some cases, Olympic teams have cancelled, worried approximately the risk of infection before the Games.

Australia’s swimming team ditched its plan to train in Niigata’s Nagaoka city, its mayor told  media in March.

And Canada’s table tennis team will no longer go to Nagano’s Okaya city, which instead plans to put posters of athletes around town, said Tomoko Hirose of the city’s planning division.

“Our cheering may change into a one-way engagement, without physical exchanges, but provided the situation, we just have to move on,” she told AFP.

– Limited contact –

Not all host towns have provided up on their plans.

Tsuruoka city in northern Yamagata prefecture will host several dozen Olympic and Paralympic athletes and officials from Moldova and Germany.

The city has had ties for years with Moldova, said Takayuki Ito, an official with the city’s board of education.

“What’s important for us is to continue our exchanges,” Ito told AFP, describing recent online archery competitions held with Moldovans.

“There are things you’ll be able to do without spending some huge cash,” Ito said. “We have a good feeling approximately our programme.”

But it may not be simple. The athletes will stay in their own dormitory and move only along designated routes to gyms and training fields, avoiding contact with residents.

In western Tottori, Yonago city will host several dozen people from Jamaica’s swimming, gymnastics and Paralympic boat teams.

The city has had ties with Jamaica since 2015, and believes its host duties will give a boost to that bond, said Kyohei Takahashi at the city’s sports promotion division.

The athletes will be on a designated floor and use a staff elevator of their hotel, avoiding the foyer and main entrance to limit contact.

They’re going to also be offered frequent virus testing, in addition to designated routes to gyms and pools.

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“We deliberate very early,” Takahashi said.

“We will not be able to have exchanges with athletes this time. But the legacy will remain,” he added.

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