About 10,000 Tokyo Olympic volunteers quit with 50 days until opening ceremony
TOKYO / CNN — Thousands of volunteers have pulled out of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in recent weeks, organizers said, fueling concerns over Japan not being prepared to host the Games amid new COVID-19 cases.
About 10,000 of the 80,000 registered volunteers supporting athletic events had quit as of Wednesday, according to the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee.
Toshiro Muto, chief executive of the Organizing Committee, said he does not believe the volunteer withdrawals will impact the operation of the Games, which were postponed last year due to the pandemic. The rescheduled event is due to start on July 23.
Volunteers are an instrumental part of the Summer Olympics. They help staff operate Olympic facilities and venues, and assist spectators and athletes. So if more continue to drop out, it could pose additional difficulties for organizers.
However, foreign spectators are not permitted at the 2020 Games, so organizers may not need as many volunteers as other host cities in years past.
The first mass drop in volunteers happened in February — the same month the president of the Games’ organizing committee resigned. The official, Yoshiro Mori, stepped down after sexist remarks he made in a meeting were leaked.
Though officials did not say why most of the 10,000 volunteers quit, it is likely tied to the pandemic. Opinion polls show most of the Japanese public oppose holding the Olympics, with hospitals overwhelmed by the fourth wave of COVID-19 cases and the vast majority of people still unvaccinated.
The country has reported more than 752,000 total coronavirus cases and more than 13,200 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. Daily new cases have been in the low thousands in recent days, declining from a fourth-wave peak of nearly 8,000 on April 29.
Japan’s vaccine rollout has also gone much slower than expected. While there is enough supply to vaccinate much of the country’s 126 million people, there is a bottleneck of medical professionals available to administer them. Only nurses, doctors and dentists can legally give vaccines.
Japanese authorities recently extended a state of emergency for much of the country, including Tokyo, until June 20 — about a month before the Olympics are set to begin.
Olympic organizers have maintained they’re confident the Olympics can be held safely and securely. Canceling the Olympics would also be costly for both Japan and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), especially due to the loss of broadcasting revenues.
Dick Pound, the longest-serving IOC member, said that “none of the folks involved in the planning and the execution of the Games is considering a cancellation.”
“That’s essentially off the table,” he said.
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