COVID-19: Doubt cast over Tokyo 2021 as Japanese towns ditch plans to host Olympic athletes

Japanese towns have dropped plans to host Olympic athletes – in what is a further indication of the disruption that could affect the Games.

Over 500 towns are registered to host international Olympians for training camps and cultural exchanges before Tokyo 2020 starts.

However, 40 towns have abandoned plans, concerned they will overburden medical resources amid a fourth wave.

The reluctance of towns on the outskirts of Tokyo is the latest signal of the unease among people in Japan over scheduling the Games during a pandemic.

Tokyo 2020 was postponed last year and is scheduled to start on 23 July, despite a surge in COVID-19 cases and a state of emergency in the capital.

Regions scheduled to host athletes have been hard hit, including the eastern region of Chiba, where the US track and field team had been due to have a training camp.

Chiba cancelled plans to welcome the American athletes on Wednesday and governor Toshihito Kumagai said hospital beds cannot be guaranteed for athletes as they should not be given preferential treatment.

Okuizumo was going to host India’s hockey team for a training camp but it has also ditched these plans.

The International Olympic Committee said on Wednesday that it is confident the Olympics would be a “historic event”.

But public opposition to the Games is growing as Japan struggles to cope with the latest surge in infections.

According to the latest figures, there were 7,521 new cases on Wednesday, including 969 infections in host-city Tokyo.

Hokkaido, which is hosting test events for the Olympic marathon, reported 1,029 cases on Wednesday.

Some athletes are also questioning whether the Games should go ahead, with tennis stars Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka raising their concerns.

Nadal said he was unsure what his calendar will look like this summer, while Williams’s doubts stem from the possibility of not being able to travel with her three-year-old daughter Olympia.

Japan’s world number two Osaka said on Tuesday that rising COVID-19 levels in Tokyo are a “big cause of concern” and said she was not sure if the Games should go ahead.

One of Japan’s most prominent executives and SoftBank’s chief executive Masayoshi Son has also voiced his concerns – saying he is “afraid” of hosting the Olympics during a pandemic.

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