• Kyodo

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The organizing committee of this summer's Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics said it will not accept volunteers from overseas in principle as a precaution to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The organizing committee's CEO, Toshiro Muto, however, said Monday it will consider allowing in foreign-based volunteers with skills necessary for the smooth running of the games under special entry rules.

Officials with knowledge of the planning said the exception could be made for around 500 volunteers, whose roles cannot easily be performed by somebody living in Japan, such as those who are capable of speaking minority languages.

"It's very painful, but we have to decide on a shift," Muto said at a news conference. "Delaying any further to make a decision will cause confusion."

Muto said about 2,300 foreign nationals living abroad have been registered as volunteers.

The announcement came after the organizing bodies of the Tokyo Games, including the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee, formally agreed Saturday that the global sporting event will be staged without overseas spectators due to public concern over the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Japanese organizing committee, foreign nationals made up roughly 10% of a total of 80,000 volunteers before the pandemic forced the one-year postponement of the games.

Japanese citizens living abroad are expected to be allowed to volunteer, according to the officials.

Holding an executive board meeting, the organizing committee also said Monday it will launch a program aimed at making Japanese society more diverse.

Under the program, tentatively called the declaration to aim for a society easy for everyone to live, the committee will set goals to promote respecting diversity.

The meeting was the first with its 12 new female members, including Sydney Olympic marathon gold medalist Naoko Takahashi and Paralympic Alpine skier Kuniko Obinata.

The new members brought the number of women on the 45-member board to 19, raising female participation to above the 40% target set by the committee's new President Seiko Hashimoto, who succeeded Yoshiro Mori in February after he was forced to step down over sexist remarks.

"We want to lay the foundation to help trigger social changes in Japan after the Tokyo Olympics," Takahashi told reporters following the meeting, during which gender equality was discussed among other issues.

Various measures being considered by the committee's team tasked with promoting gender equality, led by its sports director Mikako Kotani, were explained at the meeting, including giving consideration to the balance of women and men presenting medals to athletes at the Tokyo Games in ceremonies.

It also decided to ban those entering competition venues from taking, sending or crafting images and movies of athletes that could be suspected of having sexual-harassment purposes.

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