Olympics without fans? Tokyo volunteers suddenly have no role


TOKYO – “We regret to inform you that your activities will all be canceled,” the city of Yokohama said in a statement on Friday, informing its more than 2,000 registered Olympic volunteers that they are no longer needed.

Japan’s decision to ban spectators from the Olympics in Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures will force sports venues to rethink their plans, with the ripple effect reaching volunteers, medical staff and security guards.

Olympic events are scheduled at 42 venues across Japan, but 80% of them will take place in Tokyo and its three neighbors – the prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa, areas subject to spectator bans.

Therefore, major venues – such as the Tokyo Olympic Stadium and Yokohama Stadium where the baseball championship game is scheduled – will all host events without fans.

With just two weeks to go until the opening ceremony on July 23, the organizing committee will scramble to reassign staff for an unprecedented Olympics during a pandemic.

Volunteers, from teens to 80s, had already received uniforms and were planning to guide spectators to venues around the city.

Yokohama had already provided the volunteers with masks and disinfectants and rented a room for them to rest.

“We will talk to the contractors and settle our payments promptly,” said a city official.

Tokyo planned to have around 30,000 volunteers to help visitors at airports and train stations. Even if this will no longer be necessary, the capital hopes to find them different roles.

“Because we will always have the Paralympic Games, we will try to give them an opportunity,” said a Tokyo metropolitan government official in charge of Olympic volunteers.

The Tokyo Olympic Games Organizing Committee, which has its own army of around 70,000 volunteers, is also planning to retain them. The 20,000 or so volunteers assigned to support spectators will be assigned different roles.

The repercussions will reach the transit systems of greater Tokyo. The metropolitan government and the organizing committee have announced the cancellation of schedules for trains designed to accommodate spectators, such as more frequent and night trains.

The committee planned to set up temporary medical clinics, staffed by doctors, nurses and medical volunteers. The plan was to have a site for 10,000 spectators, to respond to medical emergencies, such as treating heat stroke patients.

The committee has secured about 7,000 medical staff, but that number will be reduced.

Private companies have been hired to carry out security checks on the sites. The committee planned to have up to about 18,000 security guards per day. But without spectators, there will be fewer screenings.

Ticket revenues, once estimated at 90 billion yen ($ 818 million), will decline. Under the contract, Tokyo is responsible for making up the shortfall if the organizing committee runs out of funds.

In a press conference on Friday, Tokyo Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa did not say who would make up for the drop in income. But Tokyo and the central government are expected to conduct negotiations.


About Jun Quentin

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