Japan’s Olympic host towns pull out over pandemic

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 because of Covid-19.

After sinking money into upgrading sports facilities, Okuizomo balked when it became clear it would have to provide bubble-like biosecurity measures with regular virus tests and medical care.

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

“But that seems impossible 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 overseas athletes, while others are devising careful programmes they hope will keep everyone safe.

Instead of giving residents the chance to meet elite athletes and try out new sports, towns will have to ditch any physical contact, school visits and public training sessions.

Kurihara city in northern Miyagi prefecture was planning to host South Africa’s hockey team, but decided the expense was no longer worth it given the limitations imposed by virus measures.

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

“If it becomes just athletes holding a training camp without any exchanges with local residents, local citizens won’t enjoy the benefits.”

In some cases, Olympic teams have cancelled, worried about 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 become a one-way engagement, without physical exchanges, but given the situation, we just have to move on,” she told AFP.

 

(AFP)

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