The novel coronavirus pandemic is dispiriting volunteers who offered to help during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
While the delayed games are scheduled to start in six months’ time, there is little excitement in Japan, and many volunteers, who had been looking forward to interacting with athletes and spectators from around the world, are finding it increasingly difficult to stay motivated.
Various training programs for volunteers, who have been recruited by the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics organizing committee and local governments, have been canceled since around February last year due to the spread of COVID-19.
While some programs resumed online after last summer, some local governments have yet to take action.
Nothing has been decided regarding full-fledged, on-site training and training by job type, other than that such programs will be held “in spring or later.”
A total of some 800 volunteers have taken part in online socializing events held by the Nippon Foundation Volunteer Support Center aimed at keeping the momentum up.
At an event held in December, volunteers voiced their frustration.
“It’s difficult to remain motivated without being able to meet with other volunteers,” one participant said.
“I feel there’s nothing I can do at the moment,” said another.
With 11 of Japan’s 47 prefectures, including Tokyo, currently under a second state of emergency, the coronavirus situation has worsened since the beginning of this year.
“Due to the negative public opinion (on the Tokyo Games), I’m reluctant to tell people I’m going to take part (as a volunteer),” said Toshiharu Kawanishi, a 55-year-old volunteer from Kawasaki who plans to work as a venue staffer.
“I can’t believe the situation is so bad with only six months remaining,” the company employee said, expressing growing concern over training opportunities and other issues. “I’d hoped it would get better.”
Kimiko Mizuno, a 55-year-old volunteer from Asaka, Saitama Prefecture, who attended a first-aid course held late last year by the prefecture, is also worried about the current situation.
Being a Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics volunteer “is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but I wonder if I’ll be able to enjoy the experience wholeheartedly if the games go ahead,” she said.
Meanwhile, local governments are concerned about securing enough volunteers.
Shizuoka Prefecture newly invited 250 volunteer applications after conducting a survey on 840 registered volunteers in August last year and found that many planned to cancel their registration or had not made their intention clear.
According to a survey conducted by Saitama Prefecture, 80% of volunteers who responded said they still intended to take part, although the response rate was only about 50%.
“We’ll have to see which way the remaining half, who haven’t responded, will go,” a prefectural official said.
An official of Chiba Prefecture, which has yet to conduct a similar survey, said it is difficult to gauge the best timing for a survey amid the current coronavirus situation.
A Tokyo Metropolitan Government official noted that volunteers cannot decide whether to participate without a clear set of infection control measures.
“I hope the organizing committee will present an (infection control) model soon,” the official said.
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