It is a highly symbolic arrival: the players of the Australian softball team became, Tuesday 1is June, the first Olympic team to set foot in Japan for the Tokyo Games, which, only seven weeks before their opening, are still causing controversy and doubts, in the midst of a pandemic.
The plane carrying the 21 players and 10 members of the staff landed at Narita airport, near Tokyo, shortly before 7:30 a.m. local time (half past midnight Paris time). On their arrival in the terminal, the Australian sportswomen, all smiles, waved to the press before being tested for Covid-19. About three hours later, a Japanese official confirmed that the entire delegation had tested negative. The Australian team in green and gold uniform then left to take up residence in the city of Ota, located about a hundred kilometers northwest of Tokyo, in the department of Gunma.
Like all participants in the Olympics (23 July-8 August), Australian players will be subject to a strict health protocol, having already been vaccinated and tested before their departure. They will be joined by two other players living in Japan. The team will train on site and play matches against local teams to refine its preparation before the Olympics.
“We know we’re going to have a package of anti-Covid tests” more “We are prepared for that”, said Jade Wall, one of the players for the Aussie Spirits, the team’s nickname before leaving. “We want to take all possible precautions to ensure our safety and that of others upon our arrival and throughout our stay”, she added.
Inaugural match against Japan
A final selection of 15 players for the competition is to be announced in early July. The team will then return to the Olympic Village on July 17 and play the inaugural match against Japan on the 21, two days before the opening ceremony of the Olympics.
Several dozen localities that were to host foreign teams across Japan have canceled their projects due to the health situation. But the mayor of Ota, Masayoshi Shimizu, told reporters on Monday that his town is proud of” to offer [son] support to show [son] friendship “ and maintain its long-standing ties with Australia. Plans to meet with local schools have been canceled, although the city still hopes to organize events through the internet.
To prevent the risk of infection, the Australian team’s living space will be confined to a single floor of a hotel, where the players will use the gym, eat and relax. The players “Will only leave the hotel to go to and from the training ground”said Australian softball boss David Pryles. “They will have less contact with the public than they would have had in Australia. “
A population massively opposed to the holding of the Olympics
The arrival of sportspeople in Japan “Will help us realize that the Games are approaching”Japanese government spokesman Katsunobu Kato said on Monday, saying he hoped Australia’s female softball players “Will prepare well for Ota and show their best performances”.
Japanese athletes and staff members participating in the Olympics were also due to start being vaccinated on Tuesday, well before the rest of the country. The vaccination campaign was indeed delayed in Japan, where about 2.5% of the population received two doses of the vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech. In addition, 10 of the 47 departments of Japan remain subject to a state of health emergency.
The Government and the organizers of the Games assure that they will take place and be held in a ” safe “. The International Olympic Committee recently assured that more than 80% of residents of the Olympic Village would be vaccinated.
The Japanese population is however overwhelmingly opposed to the organization of the Games, wishing, according to various polls, their cancellation or a new postponement, a possibility that the organizers have firmly ruled out.