TOKYO, June 1, (AP): Japan started vaccinating Tokyo Games-bound athletes on Tuesday, the Japanese Olympic Committee said. The vaccination of healthy athletes comes as only 2-3% of the general population in Japan has been fully vaccinated. Japanese Olympic Committee officials said about 200 athletes were vaccinated at a training center on the first day of the rollout. Japanese Olympic Committee offi- cials did not name any of the athletes. They also restricted coverage of the event, possibly fearing a public backlash. Japanese Olympic Committee official Mitsugi Ogata said the vaccination of young athletes would not affect distribution to the general population, including the elderly and medical workers. “Vaccination operations for athletes are conducted in a different organization from those for the nation,” Ogata said.
The Tokyo Olympics are to open on July 23. The International Olympic Committee has said being vaccinated is not required for participating in the Olympics. However, the IOC has encouraged all athletes to be vaccinated. IOC President Thomas Bach has said he believes more than 80% of the residents of the Olympic Village in Tokyo will be vaccinated. Olympic officials say having athletes vaccinated will make the Japanese public feel increased safety in regard to holding the Olympics. Opinion polls in Japan show 50-80% of the Japanese public – depending how the question is phrased – oppose holding the Olympics in July.
More than 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes from more than 200 nations and territories are expected to enter Japan, in addition to tens of thousands of judges, officials, media and broadcasters. Many medical officials in Japan oppose holding the Olympics, seeing it as a potential super-spreader event. The IOC says it will be “safe and secure” and always references guidance from the World Health Organization.
Meanwhile, Australia’s Olympic women’s softball squad touched down in Japan on Tuesday and was among the earliest arrivals for the Tokyo Games. The so-called Aussie Spirit will be in camp in Ota City, north of Tokyo, and will narrow the squad down from 23 to 15 ahead of their opening Olympic game against host Japan on July 21 – two days before the official opening ceremony. The softball squad arrive at a time of mounting pressure on Japanese organizers, with polls in Japan showing a majority of people want the Olympics delayed again or canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fans from abroad have already been barred from attending the Olympics, and there’s increasing speculation that games will be held in empty stadiums. A state of emergency in Tokyo, Osaka and other prefectures was last week extended until June 20 as COVID- 19 cases continue to put the medical system under strain. Cancellation pressure grows daily on Tokyo organizers and the International Olympic Committee as more questions arise about the risks of bringing 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes from more than 200 countries and territories into Japan. The IOC says more than 80% of athletes and staff staying in the Olympic Village on Tokyo Bay will be vaccinated. They are expected to remain largely in a bubble at the village and at venues.