The U.S. track and field team has canceled its pre-Olympic training camp in Japan for safety concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic, local officials said on Wednesday, raising more questions about hosting the Games.
The team was due to train in Chiba, neighboring Tokyo prefecture, before the Summer Games, but canceled “out of concern for the safety of its athletes,” according to a statement from the Chiba administration.
There was no immediate comment from USA Track and Field.
“It’s a shame that they decided to cancel, but I think they made the best decision possible in the current situation,” Chiba governor Toshihito Kumagai said in the statement.
With less than three months before the Games start on July 23, Japan is grappling with a surge in coronavirus infections, and a majority of the population want them canceled or postponed for the second time. [nL1N2MY0BH]
Public concerns have also caused angst among sponsors, with a senior executive at one of them, Toyota Motor Corp , saying company officials felt “at odds” over the desire to see the Olympics succeed and public concerns about hosting the event during a pandemic.
“As sponsors, it breaks our hearts to see the public’s dissatisfaction with the athletes,” the automaker’s operations manager, Jun Nagata, said at a press conference on Wednesday.
“To be honest, we are in conflict every day over the best course of action.”
To prevent a virus outbreak during the event, Japan is preparing to offer vaccinations to around 2,500 Olympic and Paralympic athletes and support staff, using donated vaccines.
However, only 2.6% of the population has been vaccinated and last month’s reports on prioritizing athletes drew criticism on social media amid public anger at the slow pace of the vaccination campaign.
“Our officials say that we will be careful not to cause problems for the whole population,” said Miho Kuroda of the Japanese Paralympic Committee.
The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper said vaccinations could start as early as June, but officials said the timing and details, such as who would administer the vaccinations, were unclear.
Last week, Pfizer Inc and its German partner BioNTech SE announced that they would donate vaccine doses to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to help vaccinate athletes and their delegations at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. [nL4N2MT34W]
Japan has only approved the Pfizer vaccine, although approval of other vaccines is imminent. Vaccinations have also been slowed by supply issues and rules that only doctors or nurses can administer vaccines, although dentists were given clearance last month.
The IOC, organizers in Japan and the government have repeatedly pledged to hold the Games as scheduled until August 8, despite much criticism.
The governor of Ibaraki prefecture, which is due to host some Olympic football events, said a further postponement or outright cancellation should be considered if the pandemic worsens.
“I don’t think we can gain the understanding of the international community, let alone Japan, if we were to host the Olympics in the midst of a medical collapse,” Governor Kazuhiko Ooigawa told reporters on Tuesday.
In a Tuesday article titled “A sporting event shouldn’t be a super-broadcaster,” the New York Times joined calls for the cancellation.
“It’s time to listen to the science and end the dangerous masquerade,” he says.
Japan has escaped the worst of the pandemic, but 11,000 people have died and the medical system has been heavily strained by the latest wave, with 925 new infections in the capital Tokyo on Tuesday.
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