Japanese towns abandon plans to host Olympics athletes amid coronavirus surge


TOKYO, JAPAN – MAY 12: The Olympic Rings are displayed by the Odaiba Marine Park Olympic venue on May 12, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. With less than three months to go until the start of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, concern continues to mount over the feasibility of hosting the event while Japan grapples with a fourth wave of coronavirus and many other countries are stricken by the pandemic. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

TOKYO (Reuters) — Dozens of Japanese towns have abandoned plans to accept overseas athletes competing in the Olympics from July due to concerns about inadequate resources amid a fourth wave of coronavirus infections, the Nikkei newspaper reported on Thursday.

Of 528 towns registered to welcome international competitors, about 40 have decided not to accept athletes for training camps and cultural exchanges before the global sporting showpiece, the Nikkei reported citing a government source.

Ibaraki prefecture Governor Kazuhiko Ooigawa said on Wednesday that he rejected the Tokyo Olympics Organising Committee’s request to secure hospital beds for the athletes as the prefecture had to prioritize citizens over athletes.

He has said a further postponement of the Games — which was originally due to be held last year — or outright cancellation should be considered if the pandemic worsened.

The United States’ track and field team has canceled its pre-Olympics training camp in Japan out of concerns for their safety during the pandemic, the eastern prefecture of Chiba said on Wednesday.

Overseas athletes also will not participate in a test event for the Olympics BMX freestyle cycling, the Yomiuri newspaper said on Thursday, citing an unnamed source. The test event had been postponed from April to May 17 amid the pandemic.

The International Olympic Committee on Wednesday said it supported Japanese measures to counter COVID-19 and was confident the Tokyo Olympics would be a “historic” event.

Japan and the government have also repeatedly vowed to hold the Games as scheduled from July 23 to Aug. 8, despite rampant criticism.

Public opposition to the Games is growing in Japan as the country struggles to contain a fourth wave of infections which is pushing medical resources to the brink.

Japan reported more than 7,000 new infections on Wednesday, with 969 cases in Games host-city Tokyo.

The government has been criticized for not locking down the economy hard enough and bungling the vaccine rollout, with only 2.8% of the population inoculated, the lowest rate among wealthy countries.

To forestall a virus outbreak during the event, Japan is preparing to offer vaccinations to about 2,500 Olympic and Paralympic athletes and support staff, using donated shots.

Reporting by Eimi Yamamitsu; Editing by Stephen Coates

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