Japanese faced with doubts about the pandemic Olympics

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Mai Tarumi, a 33-year-old Japanese woman, has dreamed of volunteering at the Tokyo Olympics (July 23 – August 8) for years, but the uncertainty generated by the COVID-19 pandemic has left her wondering if these JO will live up to his expectations.

• Read also: Associations call for boycott of the Beijing-2022 Winter Olympics

Like other Japanese who hope to participate in the event this summer, she is unsure of the success of the experience if the Games, postponed for a year from 2020 to this year, are held behind closed doors or without spectators. foreigners.

These restrictions may be necessary for the Games to be held safely, organizers say, but Mai Tarumi fears the big party she has long envisioned could turn into a big disappointment.

Japanese faced with doubts about the pandemic Olympics

Olympics without spectators, “it would be like any other sporting event” at the moment, explains the young woman to AFP in front of a site planned to host the Olympic taekwondo events, where she intends to be a volunteer.

“It’s completely different from the spirit of the Olympic Games, where we bring people together from all over the world, we organize competitions, we exchange on the cultural level and we enjoy the party,” she adds.

Tokyo-2020 officials recruited an army of 80,000 volunteers for the initial dates last year, but the postponement of the Olympics prevented many of them from being able to participate this summer.

Mai Tarumi, who had the idea to apply after staying in Canada during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games, still intends to volunteer, even if spectators are excluded.

“Once in a lifetime”

A decision on the number of spectators will be taken in the spring. The Olympic torch relay in Japan is also due to start on March 25, but with reduced festivities and instructions for physical distancing.

About 10,000 runners are expected to take part in the relay, including Kazuo Okano, 62, a karate teacher.

The inclusion of this martial art in the Olympic program in Tokyo made him want to participate in the relay, he told AFP.

Japanese faced with doubts about the pandemic Olympics

“Even without an audience I would be thrilled (to be able to participate in the relay, Editor’s note). It only happens once in life, ”he explains.

For Yoshiko Tanaka, 56, the success of the Games will depend on whether or not spectators are admitted. She and her family have four tickets to the judo competition, won in a lottery after applying for around 30 different events.

But this spectator does not expect the experience to live up to her vivid memories of the Nagano Winter Games (central Japan) in 1998, where she witnessed speed skating races live. .

Backfire ?

“I was struck by the number of people present” in Nagano, recalls Ms. Tanaka, referring to the “impressive silence” before the start of the races, then the clamor and “the jubilant crowd” at the finish, an atmosphere ” unbelievable “.

She fears a dreary atmosphere in Tokyo this summer in the event of the Olympics behind closed doors: “Even in the stadium it would be a bit like watching the event on TV. Without an audience, it would be complete silence, without encouragement or anything … I really have trouble imagining what the Olympics would be like under these conditions ”.

Like volunteer Mai Tarumi, Yoshiko Tanaka would prefer the Games to be postponed for a year, or even until 2024. But she says she would also understand if the event was canceled, which is categorically ruled out for the moment by the organizers.

If the Games still take place while Covid-19 infections remain high, Mai Tarumi believes the Olympic message of hope and equality could backfire on organizers.

“If things get back to normal by then and people come from all over the world, it will be a big celebration to have beaten the virus,” Tarumi said.

But if the event is maintained in a health context that is still as difficult as it is today, “organizing the Games could suggest that we are making fun of the situation,” she warns. “I think the world would view this with contempt.”

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