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100 days from the start, the threat of Covid-19 hangs over the Tokyo Olympics

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The Olympic flame is currently crossing Japan and athletes from around the world are stepping up their training for the Tokyo Olympics, but 100 days before the event, the organizers still face monumental challenges.

With 100 days to go before the start of the Tokyo Olympics, it is still not the time for serenity. The persistence of the pandemic and sudden resurgences of the Covid-19, including in Japan, are disrupting preparations and fueling uncertainty over the possibility and desirability of hosting the event this summer (23 July-8 August) .

Test events have been postponed, the Olympic torch relay has been reduced to a minimum and new health restrictions are in effect in Tokyo and other Japanese cities.

Despite this, the tone of Olympic organizers and officials remains confident, with their public statements focusing not on how the Games will be held, but on how they will unfold.

They have reason to be optimistic: The Olympic Torch Relay kicked off in Fukushima last month, although spectators were unable to attend the start and the first leg, and vaccination programs are underway in many. many countries, some Olympic teams having already been vaccinated.

Japan does not require that participants in the Olympics be vaccinated, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) encourages vaccinations and has obtained doses made in China for athletes in countries without access.

In Japan, sporting events continue with a limited number of spectators, and supporters are already following the rules that will be applied to the Games this summer, including the ban on cheering.


Athletes in full preparation

North Korea’s decision not to participate in the Tokyo Olympics because of the virus did not snowball, most of the athletes seeming to be impatient to return to the international stage.

“The past 14 months have been very motivating for all of us,” said American swimmer Katie Ledecky, five-time Olympic gold medalist last week. “We really want to show the world all the hard work we’ve put in.”

In Japan, swimmer Rikako Ikee sparked excitement by earning a spot on the Olympic relay team, just two years after being diagnosed with leukemia.

But the news is far from all positive. The resurgence of Covid-19 has thus forced the Japanese government to reimpose restrictions just three weeks after lifting the previous ones. In Osaka, the governor banned the passage of the Olympic flame on public roads. The relay will take place in a park closed to spectators.

A water polo test event was canceled due to Japanese border restrictions. Other qualifying events have been postponed.

“Safe Games”

Despite these problems, Tokyo-2020 organizers say they are confident and “able to organize a safe and secure Games.” They have published “manuals” listing the strict antivirus measures that will be updated this month, in the hope of allaying the fears of a Japanese public still largely opposed to the Games, already postponed for a year in due to the pandemic, a first in peacetime.

Tens of thousands of athletes and other Olympic participants arriving from abroad will escape quarantine and will not be required to present proof of vaccination. But the athletes will have to limit their travel, stay in the Olympic Village only the time of their events and undergo regular screening tests.

The Games will not welcome supporters from overseas, and a decision on the number of spectators residing in Japan could be made this month. Anyway, the atmosphere will be far from the usual big festivals accompanying this planetary event. Television will be king.

Polls show that most Japanese would prefer a further postponement or cancellation, but those in favor of holding them are more numerous than before, rising from 11% in January to 27% in March.

“The Covid-19 situation will naturally influence public opinion on the Games,” the organizers said. Most of the Olympics face criticism before they are held, they noted, saying they expect a change in mood once the athletes take the stage. “Each time, we are inspired by their strength and resilience, and it will be truer than ever this year.”

With AFP

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