The western city of Okuizumo spent more than $ 5 million to prepare to host the Indian hockey team for a pre-Games training camp, to abandon the visit due to Covid -19.
After investing money in upgrading sports facilities, Okuizomo hesitated when it became clear that he should provide bubble-like biosecurity measures with virus testing and regular medical care.
“We wanted one of the best teams in the world to come to our city and show their skills to the local children,” city official Katsumi Nagase told AFP. “But that seems impossible now.” More than 500 municipalities have registered to welcome athletes and officials in a program to expand the benefits of the Olympics beyond Tokyo.
Some, like Okuizumo, have already abandoned plans to host foreign athletes, while others are crafting meticulous programs that they hope will keep everyone safe. Instead of giving locals the chance to meet elite athletes and try out new sports, cities will have to abandon all physical contact, school visits and public training sessions.
The town of Kurihara in northern Miyagi Prefecture was planning to host the South African hockey team, but decided the expense was no longer worth it given the limits imposed by anti- virus. “This is a project that will use our fiscal resources,” Hidenori Sasaki, a local school board official, told AFP.
“If these are just athletes running a training camp without any interaction with local residents, local citizens will not benefit.” In some cases, Olympic teams have canceled, worried about the risk of infection before the games. The Australian swim team has abandoned plans to train in the town of Nagaoka in Niigata, its mayor told media in March.
And Canada’s table tennis team will no longer travel to the city of Okaya in Nagano, which instead plans to place posters of athletes across the city, said Tomoko Hirose of the city’s planning division. . “Our cheers can become a one-sided engagement, without physical exchanges, but given the situation, we just have to move on,” she told AFP.
Limited Contacts – Not all host cities have abandoned their plans.
The town of Tsuruoka, in the north of Yamagata prefecture, will host several dozen Olympic and Paralympic athletes and officials from Moldova and Germany. The city has had ties with Moldova for years, said Takayuki Ito, an official with the city’s school board.
“What is important for us is to continue our exchanges,” Ito told AFP, describing recent online archery competitions organized with Moldovans. “There are things you can do without spending a lot of money,” Ito said. “We have a good impression of our programs.”
But it won’t be easy. Athletes will stay in their own dormitory and travel only along designated routes to gymnasiums and training grounds, avoiding contact with residents. In western Tottori, the town of Yonago will host several dozen people from Jamaica’s swim, gymnastics and Paralympic boat teams.
The city has had ties with Jamaica since 2015 and believes its hospitality functions will strengthen that bond, said Kyohei Takahashi of the city’s sports promotion division. Athletes will be on a designated floor and will use an elevator for their hotel staff, avoiding the lobby and main entrance to limit contact.
They’ll also be offered frequent virus testing, along with designated routes to gyms and swimming pools. “We planned very early,” Takahashi said. “We will not be able to have exchanges with the athletes this time. But the legacy will remain,” he added.