Japan’s women’s softball team yesterday got the Tokyo Olympics off to a winning start for the hosts, kicking off a pandemic-postponed Games that the WHO says can be “a celebration of hope” even as COVID-19 cases surge.
Japanese and Olympic Games officials have forged ahead with the sports spectacle, despite opposition in the country to hosting more than 11,000 athletes, staff and media — dozens of whom have tested positive for COVID-19.
Spectators have been barred and restrictions have been imposed in and around Tokyo in an effort to minimize health risks between residents and visitors.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the Games should go ahead to demonstrate to the world what can be achieved with the right planning and measures.
‘RAYS OF HOPE’
“May the rays of hope from this land illuminate a new dawn for a healthier, safer and fairer world,” he said, holding aloft an Olympic Games torch as he addressed International Olympic Committee members in the Japanese capital. “It is my sincere hope the Tokyo Games succeed.”
However, Tedros said that the world is in the early stages of another wave of infections and criticized vaccine discrepancies between countries.
Japan, with about 34 percent of its population having had at least one vaccine dose, has been concerned that the Olympics could become a super-spreader event.
In a recent poll in the Asahi newspaper, 68 percent of respondents expressed doubt about the ability of Olympic organizers to control COVID-19 infections, with 55 percent saying that they were opposed to the Games going ahead.
The Tokyo Games’ official opening ceremony is tomorrow and is expected to be a scaled-down, sobering performance, said Marco Balich, a senior adviser to the Tokyo ceremonies executive producer.
As with the opening ceremony, the women’s softball match between gold-medal contender Japan and Australia was held without spectators amid buzzing cicadas and polite applause from a few hundred staff members at the stadium in Fukushima.
Players standing along the benches under the scorching sun — 30°C by the middle of the game — shouted encouragement to the hitters, giving the game a Little League feel.
The game ended after five innings due to a mercy rule, as a trio of Japanese two-run homers cleared the fence.
Two more softball games as well as the first six women’s soccer matches were also held yesterday.
Tokyo Olympics organizers yesterday disclosed seven more COVID-19 infections among attendees, bringing the total to 75.
Japan Broadcasting Corp reported that a Chilean taekwondo competitor plans to withdraw from the Olympic Games after testing positive for COVID-19.
Cases have been on the rise in Tokyo and media quoted the government’s main medical adviser, Shigeru Omi, as saying that daily COVID-19 infections in Tokyo might spike to a record 3,000 in the first week of next month, more than double their recent peak.
Underscoring the downsized Games, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said the Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga would only meet with about 15 world leaders on the sidelines of the Olympics, compared with up to 120 previously.
Tokyo had hoped to replicate some of the successes it had in hosting the 1964 Games, which helped launch Japan onto the international stage.
In other news, the Australian city of Brisbane is to host the Olympic Games in 2032, the country’s third time hosting the games, a statement said.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that the Games would “lock in economic growth and social benefits” for years to come.
“We know the impact on Sydney more than two decades ago was transformative,” Morrison said in an e-mailed statement. “We can now expect a repeat for Brisbane and communities across Queensland.”
Additional reporting by Bloomberg
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