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The novel coronavirus pandemic is preventing direct interaction between athletes taking part in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, slated for this summer, and their host towns around Japan.

While some of those municipalities have taken to the internet to connect with athletes, many are facing difficulty creating opportunities for interactions as they have to prioritize infection prevention measures.

Host towns are local governments that partner with specific countries to accept their athletes for training in Japan and promote interactions with local residents.

The city of Daito, Osaka Prefecture, held its first online event linking 19 local elementary and junior high school students with Colombian wheelchair basketball Paralympians in late November last year.

The students put questions such as “What do you find fun or difficult about (the sport)?” and “What do you want to do in Japan?” to the athletes, who are scheduled to visit Daito for training in the lead-up to the Tokyo Games.

The Paralympians expressed gratitude when the students showed them a board with messages cheering them on in Spanish.

“I found it amazing that they’re doing their best to do what they can, despite their disabilities,” one child said.

“We haven’t been able to hold interactions for a long time, and we thought that it would not lead to leaving a legacy” of the host town activities, a city official said. “We took our first step online.”

Daito plans to conduct similar events until August, when the athletes are expected to arrive for training.

The Japanese government is urging host town municipalities to hold online interaction sessions, as well as draw up coronavirus infection prevention manuals to prepare for the arrivals of athletes.

The central government is also asking for a detailed itinerary of where athletes will visit and stay.

Fukuoka Prefecture held an online meeting with its municipalities at the end of last year to begin creating a manual.

Meanwhile, the city of Yaizu, Shizuoka Prefecture, which will host Mongolian athletes, is struggling to set the details of its plans.

According to a Yaizu official, the city is unsure when and how many people will be visiting for training, because Mongolia remains unable to hold competitions for selecting athletes.

“What we wanted to do most as a host town was to have athletes and children play together and to hold demonstrations of the athletes’ sports,” an official of one city in eastern Japan said. “Now, the priority is to make sure athletes don’t catch the coronavirus.

“Even if athletes come, it’ll be difficult to create a welcoming mood,” the official added.

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