Japan Olympic host towns pull out fearing Covid
Tokyo, Japan: Hundreds of Japanese towns and cities have been forced to reconsider plans to host Olympic teams due to the coronavirus, which would prohibit public appearances and necessitate expensive safety precautions.
Okuizumo in western Japan spent more than $5 million planning to host India's hockey team for a pre-Games training camp, only to cancel the visit due to Covid-19.
Okuizomo baulked after sinking money into improving sports facilities when it became apparent that it would have to include bubble-like biosecurity measures, including routine virus checks and medical treatment.
"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 as part of a plan to extend the advantages of the Olympics beyond Tokyo.
Some, like Okuizumo, have already abandoned plans to host foreign athletes, while others are devising meticulous plans in the hope of keeping everyone safe.
Instead of providing people with the opportunity to meet professional athletes and try out new sports, towns would be required to discontinue all physical interaction, school visits, and public training sessions.
Kurihara, a city in northern Miyagi prefecture, had planned to host South Africa's hockey team but decided the cost was no longer worth it due to virus-control 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 certain cases, Olympic teams have canceled their participation due to concerns about the possibility of infection before the Games.
Australia's swimming team abandoned plans to practice in Niigata's Nagaoka city in March, according to the mayor of Nagaoka.
And the Canadian table tennis team will no longer visit Nagano's Okaya district, which instead plans to plaster posters of athletes throughout the city, according to 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.
Not all host cities have abandoned their plans.
Tsuruoka, in Yamagata prefecture's northernmost region, will host a number of Olympic and Paralympic athletes and officials from Moldova and Germany.
Takayuki Ito, an official with the city's board of education, said the city has had relations with Moldova for years.
"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 can do without spending a lot of money," Ito said. "We have a good feeling about our program."
But it won't be easy. The athletes would live in their own dormitory and travel only on specified routes to gyms and training fields, avoiding interaction with neighbors.
Yonago city in western Tottori will host several hundred members of Jamaica's diving, gymnastics, and Paralympic boat teams.
The city has had relations with Jamaica since 2015, and the city's sports promotion division's Kyohei Takahashi believes that hosting the event would reinforce that connection.
To limit touch, the athletes will be on a designated floor and will use the hotel's staff elevator, avoiding the lobby and main entrance.
They will also be subjected to regular virus monitoring, as well as designated routes to gyms and swimming pools.
"We planned very early," Takahashi said.
"We won't be able to have exchanges with athletes this time. But the legacy will remain," he added.