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Japanese cyclist Nene Naito at the Olympic Games’ Cycling BMX Freestyle test event on May 17, 2021 in Tokyo. Photo: AP

Japan pushes on with Olympic test events as public opposition mounts and IOC says Games should go ahead

  • With 67 days to go, qualifying and test events are continuing – despite mounting public opposition and Japan’s ongoing wave of Covid-19 infections
  • A growing number of athletes are pulling out of the Games citing restrictions and risks. Even one of the government’s own advisers says he’s less optimistic
Preparations for the Tokyo Olympic Games are going ahead despite the coronavirus pandemic, with athletics disciplines, skateboarding and basketball test events taking part in the last few days, and the city hosting additional dry runs of the BMX freestyle and shooting competitions on Monday.

With the Olympic countdown clock outside Tokyo Station ticking down to 67 days until the opening ceremony, the BMX test event is taking place at the Ariake Urban Sports Park, while the Asaka Shooting Range is hosting the other event.

More test events for the Games are due to take place in the coming days, including water polo and artistic swimming at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.


‘Almost impossible’ to send doctors, nurses to Olympics, says Japanese medical association

‘Almost impossible’ to send doctors, nurses to Olympics, says Japanese medical association

Events are being held under the “playbook” of safety measures for athletes and games officials released recently by the International Olympic Committee and the local organising committee.

The 30-page playbook calls on all those preparing for the Games to wear a mask at all times, other than when eating, drinking, sleeping, training or competing, to minimise their physical interactions with other people and practise social distancing, to “think hygiene” and to undergo frequent tests and be prepared to have their movements and contacts traced should an outbreak occur.

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Field athletics events at the National Stadium on May 9 were used to fine-tune the countermeasures against Covid-19, with no spectators allowed into the stadium to watch 420 athletes, including nine from abroad, compete.

Some 225 divers from 46 countries participated in the International Swimming Federation Diving World Cup earlier in the month, with competitors required to provide a negative polymerase chain reaction test 72 hours before travelling to Tokyo and then another negative response after arriving.

Social distancing rules are being enforced and an announcement was made over the public address system at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre when a group of divers were thought to be too close together during the event.

The venue has been divided into three zones, including a warm-up area, training facilities and diving pool, and divers are being told to stay with colleagues from the same nation.

Why Tokyo thinks its Olympics show must go on – even as Covid-19 booms

Olympic organisers have been quick to point out that no athletes or team officials have tested positive for Covid-19 at test events to date, although some athletes, medical professionals and a majority of the Japanese public have serious reservations about the Games going ahead. The Japanese government and the International Olympic Committee have maintained that the event should take place.

Officials of Diving Australia told Reuters it was “clear” that it would “not be safe” to send athletes and officials to Tokyo for the World Cup, despite the event serving as the final qualifier for the Olympics.

Anabelle Smith and Maddison Keeney, who won bronze medals in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro games, look likely to miss out on the chance to compete in Tokyo and have criticised the sport’s governing body for pushing ahead with the diving world cup despite rising case numbers in Tokyo.

In a post on Instagram, Smith said she was “devastated”.

“Maddi and I have been stripped of our chance to defend our Olympic bronze medal, in an event where we have pushed the boundaries since Rio,” she wrote. “I have been pretty numb over the past few weeks, but writing this now it becomes very real.”

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Sarah Walker, the New Zealand BMX cyclist who won silver at the 2012 Olympics in London, told Newstalk ZB that she would not compete in overseas qualification events, including in Tokyo, due to the restrictions and risks involved. Her colleague in the sport, Rebecca Petch, has similarly declined to stay at home.

“I was trying to find more reasons to go but I just couldn’t find enough,” Walker said. “The logistics of travel, the risk of getting stuck, the two weeks in managed isolation – if you make it back on the flight you said you were going to be on, and if you don’t, what are you going to do if you get stuck overseas?”

The government is waiting for as long as it can before it has to make a decision, but they have to decide in early June at the latest
Kazuhiro Tateda, Japan Association of Infectious Diseases

Kazuhiro Tateda, president of the Japan Association of Infectious Diseases and a member of the government’s coronavirus advisory committee, said he was optimistic even a couple of months ago that the Games would be able to go ahead, but that optimism was fading.

“We are getting to the stage where the IOC and the government need to make a final decision on the Games; whether they are safe to go ahead or if it’s just too risky,” he said.

If the pandemic is at level two on the four-level alert system, then it should be possible to proceed with the games with some spectators in stadiums, Tateda suggested.

Japan is currently experiencing a surge in cases, with more than 5,200 new infections reported on Sunday and 47 deaths, while three more prefectures – Hokkaido, Hiroshima and Okayama – were added to the list of regions under a state of emergency. Those figures put the nation at level four.

To go ahead with the games if Japan is still at level four would be “impossible”, Tateda said.

“I think the government is waiting for as long as it can before it has to make a decision, but they have to decide in early June at the latest,” he said.

“If it was just a few thousand athletes coming to Japan, then maybe it would still be possible to go ahead, but there are national officials, support staff and thousands of journalists from all over the world coming,” he said. “They are talking about a ‘bubble’ for the athletes, but with all the other people, I just think it is impossible.”

Misako Ichimura, an activist with the “Tokyo No Olympics 2020” citizens’ group, said opponents of the largest sporting event in Japan’s history plan to step up their campaign to have the games scrapped.

“We are doing everything we can to stop the Olympics,” she said. “We are protesting and we are going to continue because most Japanese people do not want the games to go ahead.”

Like several others, the group originally opposed the Games on the grounds of the high cost and disruption the Olympics would cause in Japan, but that opposition has been heightened by the pandemic.

“It’s not safe at all,” said Ichimura. “There is no question that more people are going to be taken ill with the virus because of the IOC and the Japanese government insisting that the games continue.”

A new poll conducted by the Asahi newspaper over the weekend supported Ichimura’s claims, with more than 80 per cent of the respondents expressing opposition to the Games.

Some 43 per cent want the games called off entirely, with a further 40 per cent saying they should be delayed once again. Just 14 per cent of those questioned said the Games should go ahead as scheduled this summer.

The opening ceremony for the Olympics is due to take place on July 23.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Opposition mounts as Olympics draw near