Kolkata: The organizers of the Tokyo Olympics have taken a giant step to secure the Games on schedule, with a decision to vaccinate some 18,000 workers, including referees and volunteers, from next week, as a confidence-building measure . Seiko Hashimoto, head of Tokyo 2020, said she hoped the vaccinations would enable staff to take part in the operations with peace of mind. The jabs will be aimed at those who ‘regularly work with the athletes’, she said. These include referees, Olympic town staff, employees and contractors, airport staff, doping test officials and assistants of the national Olympic and Paralympic committees. With just six weeks to go before the pandemic-delayed Games open, officials are still struggling with domestic opposition and fear the opportunity could spread the coronavirus. Hashimoto said at a news conference on Friday that Tokyo 2020 would be “grateful” if Group of Seven countries could support the Summer Games as planned. G7 leaders meet in Britain this weekend. The vaccination program in Japan began slowly, and although it is now picking up pace, just over four percent of the population has been fully vaccinated, with nearly 13 percent having a first dose. Some of the 70,000 volunteers will also be included if they are expected to have regular close contact with athletes. Hashimoto said the vaccinations would begin on June 18, with the second doses being administered before the Games open on July 23.
Opinion polls show that most in Japan are opposed to the Games this year, preferring the cancellation or a further postponement. Organizers are trying to convey their message that hard participants and the Japanese public will be safe. They have reduced the number of overseas participants and need daily testing of athletes, including those who have already been vaccinated. Overseas fans have been banned and a decision on how many local spectators, if any, will be allowed is expected later this month. One of the Japanese sports legends and a manager of the country’s Olympic Committee were of the opinion that the Games should be held without spectators to ensure the safety of the public and accused the organizers of using a ‘double standard’. Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) board member Kaori Yamaguchi, an Olympic judo medalist, said the government was “confusing” the people by asking them to stay home and lay curbs while wearing the global sports car. “There is a fear among everyone that if people started moving around in Japan again, the infections would spread by the time they reached a peak and people could lead a safe life again,” Yamaguchi said, one of the few voices who is openly critical of the Olympics in the world of Japanese sports. “If we were to curb the virus and be careful about it, I would say we should keep the Games without spectators,” Yamaguchi told Reuters in a Zoom interview. Parts of Japan, including Tokyo, are currently under a viral state that will end on June 20, and the number of infections will drop.