• SHARE

Olympic organizers have capped the number of spectators allowed into venues for game events, but will offer Japanese students special access under a program that will let hundreds of thousands of children see the world’s best athletes compete.

Tickets are cheap and COVID-19 countermeasures are in place. Many schools, however, have already pulled out, while others are still on the fence, awaiting more information.

Close to 1.3 million tickets were booked for the schools program last year. But in areas around Tokyo that are hosting several Olympic events, like Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures, more than half of the tickets for the program have been canceled.

The response to the program illustrates the challenges facing Japan as it tries to get fans into stadiums during a pandemic-marred games that have already been delayed once.

Jun Tashiro, principal of the Shiratori Elementary School in Tokyo, rattled off a list of concerns for the nearly 500 pupils he had planned to take to Paralympic events in August.

“It takes a very long time for children to travel on public transport, we’re worried about how a sick child at the venue should be handled and seating arrangements are yet to be made,” Tashiro said.

It’s the capital’s Katsushika Ward, where Tashiro’s school is located, that will decide whether its schools will participate. Tashiro said he would rather his school did not go.

“We don’t know whether social distancing can be maintained,” Tashiro said. “I want to offer our children a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that can stay in their memory forever, but safety is the top priority.”

Jun Tashiro, the principal of Shiratori Elementary School, shows a chart listing problems that would need to be solved to taking students to watch the Olympic Games, during an interview at the school in Tokyo on June 30. | REUTERS
Jun Tashiro, the principal of Shiratori Elementary School, shows a chart listing problems that would need to be solved to taking students to watch the Olympic Games, during an interview at the school in Tokyo on June 30. | REUTERS

Japan has barred overseas spectators and capped domestic audiences at 10,000 people per venue. But three weeks before the Games are set to start, organizers say they may still hold events without any viewers if infections in the capital keep rising.

Tokyo, which has been under a state of quasi-emergency, reported 716 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday — the highest level in more than five weeks.

Children can catch COVID-19 but are far less likely than adults to develop severe symptoms. Children are also less contagious, studies have found.

Some schools are planning to send smaller groups to the games.

“Now that the coronavirus situation isn’t under control there’s a considerable risk if the entire school attends the events,” said Kazue Karakama, head of the Chiba Prefectural Togane Special Needs Education School.

As some of her students have medical conditions, Karakama said she had to scale back her plan to send the entire school. Now just 15 of 143 students will watch Olympic wrestlers compete in August.

Karakama has assigned as many staff as possible to assist the children, who will not eat lunches during the trips in order to shorten their time at the venues.

Parents also must weigh the rare opportunity for their kids against the risks.

“I don’t know how thorough the measures against infectious diseases would be. It’s a bit scary,” said Koga Ito, the mother of a third-grade student from Tashiro’s school who is scheduled to attend a Paralympics event. “I can’t decide what to do.”

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

PHOTO GALLERY (CLICK TO ENLARGE)