Municipalities face a balance in welcoming foreign Olympic athletes

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With one month before the Tokyo Olympics kick off, municipalities hosting participating athletes from abroad are doing a balancing act to keep them safe amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Although more than 120 municipalities have canceled plans to host foreign teams coming to Japan for pre-Olympic training and games, local governments that have decided to remain hosts are putting a lot of energy into keeping athletes safe while reflecting. how to empower local residents to encourage them without direct interaction.

The city of Ota, in Gunma prefecture, has hosted the Australian women’s softball team since June 1, becoming the first Japanese municipality to accept a foreign Olympic team for training camp since the Games postponed from Tokyo last year.

The city government initially postponed its plan to allow the public to see a practice match and considered measures to prevent team members from contracting the coronavirus.

He finally came up with the idea of ​​asking residents to register to watch the training matches in order to limit the number of spectators.

“I was relieved” to see the games unfold in the presence of the public, said an official from Ota.

Team members have not been allowed to leave the hotel where they are staying except for training. The purchase requests have been processed by the municipal authorities.

Ota Mayor Masayoshi Shimizu said he saw no problem with members shopping. But there are still many issues to be resolved, including how to prevent infections when shopping and talking to salespeople.

City officials looking after the team will need to take care of protecting members from the virus until they leave Ota for the Olympic Village in Tokyo on July 17.

Masayoshi Shimizu, Mayor of Ota, Gunma Prefecture, speaks with members of the Australian women’s softball team for the Olympics during their camp in the city this month. | CITY OF OTA / VIA KYODO

The town of Shimosuwa in Nagano Prefecture will host rowing teams from Argentina and Italy in July.

The city government has only a few officials to assist with visiting teams as it is concerned about administering the coronavirus vaccination to residents.

To prevent team members from becoming infected with the virus with limited numbers, the city has agreed with the two countries to transport members by dedicated vehicles and to restrict the entry of locals to training sites.

While revealing a plan to give residents the opportunity to see the athletes training, a city official stressed the importance of not allowing spectators to approach them.

In the city of Kamo, in the prefecture of Niigata, a dozen municipal government employees will be vaccinated to take care of the women’s gymnastics team in Portugal.

Host municipalities had initially hoped that local residents would have face-to-face interactions with visiting athletes, but the pandemic has deprived residents of those opportunities.

The Ota city government has canceled the Australian team’s planned visit to a local school.

“I think we’ve lost half of our meaning as a host city,” Mayor Shimizu said.

The government is now considering hosting online interaction events.

The Shimosuwa city government is also planning online exchanges between locals and rowing team members and sending messages of encouragement from locals.

“We hope that we will later be happy to have welcomed the foreign athletes despite the difficult situation,” said a city official.

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