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10,000 Tokyo Olympics volunteers resigned ahead of opening of Games

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The Olympics in Tokyo are just 50 days away from beginning
The Olympics in Tokyo are just 50 days away from beginning   -   Copyright  Eugene Hoshiko/AP
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Around 10,000 of the 80,000 volunteers expected to take part in the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games have resigned in recent months, organisers have revealed, with 50 days to go before they are due to open.

Tokyo-2020 chief executive Toshiro Muto told local media on Wednesday that about 10,000 volunteers had quit, mainly because of health concerns.

"I think there is no doubt that one of the reasons is concern about coronavirus infections," he said.

Others dropped out because of scheduling problems after the Games were postponed for a year, or to protest sexist remarks made by Tokyo-2020 president Yoshiro Mori, who was forced to resign in February and was replaced by Seiko Hashimoto.

Some volunteers could also be among the estimated 80% of Japanese who oppose hosting the Games this year, according to national polls. Polls in Tokyo showed a more even split (50-50) between supporters and opponents of the Games.

Muto said the lower number of volunteers - who are usually employed as guides, assistants or translators - would "not seriously" affect the Games, which have themselves been scaled back.

Games '100% on'

Seiko Hashimoto herself has expressed confidence in media interviews that the Games will go ahead.

"The possibility of these Games going on is 100% that we will do this," she said in an interview with the BBC published on Thursday. However, she added that "in a crisis or an emergency situation... we must be prepared to have these Games without any spectators".

Earlier, Hashimoto told a local sports newspaper that she ruled out any further postponement of the Games and that a cancellation would only occur in catastrophic circumstances where most of the delegations could not come to Japan.

"If various countries in the world have very serious situations, and delegations from most countries cannot come, then we would not be able to hold them," she told the Nikkan Sports daily. "Unless such a situation arises, the Games will not be cancelled.

The Games were originally scheduled for 2020, but were postponed for a year due to the pandemic. They are now scheduled for 23 July to 8 August.

On Thursday organisers are due to unveil further details of the medal ceremonies, ostensibly to build excitement.

Due to a fourth wave of infections, Tokyo and nine other counties will remain under a state of health emergency until a month before the Games.

Foreign spectators were already banned from attending the Games in March and a decision on local spectators is expected this month after the state of emergency in Tokyo ends on 20 June.

The number of foreign officials and participants in the Games has been halved to some 78,000.

Organisers assure that the Games will be held "in a safe manner" for participants and the Japanese public. Hashimoto said she felt that public opinion was changing as Japan's initially slow vaccination campaign began to pick up pace.

Japan has been relatively unscathed compared to many other countries, with some 13,000 deaths officially recorded since the beginning of 2020. However, only 2.9% of the population has received two doses of vaccine.

The first Olympic team - softball players from Australia - arrived in Japan on Tuesday and will train in the city of Ota, about 100 kilometres northwest of Tokyo.

But in a sign of the difficulties faced by the organisers, a member of Ghana's U21 football team tested positive on arrival in Japan for a friendly match late on Wednesday night, according to the Japanese Football Association.

All the players in the Ghana team, which is due to play Japan's U21s on Saturday, had tested negative within 72 hours of leaving for Japan.