The Australian softball team will be the first athletes to land in Japan for the Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday, which is a big step forward for the pandemic-delayed event still plagued by coronavirus fears.
The “Aussie Spirit” team, wearing face masks and green and gold uniforms, was led straight off the plane for coronavirus testing, part of the strict biosecurity measures designed to stop infections at the Games.
The 2020 Games, which open a year later on July 23, will continue to struggle with little public support until the end of June, with much of Japan, including Tokyo, under a virus emergency.
About three hours after landing, an official confirmed that the group had all tested negative and left for their training camp in Ota City, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Tokyo.
The team and staff were all vaccinated but had to test negative before departure and upon arrival in Japan.
Great to see the Aussie Spirit arrive in Narita this morning. Many thanks to the team host city @OtaCity_PR, the 🇯🇵 Gov, TOCOG for all the support and hard work. We wish a safe and successful training camp for # Tokyo2020, subject to COVID measures. @ SoftballOz pic.twitter.com/K4Y356HFMN
– オ ー ス ト ラ リ ア 大使館 Australia in Japan (@AustraliaInJPN) June 1, 2021
They will face strict rules during their training camp, with no family members allowed and the delegation limited to one floor of their hotel.
Despite the unusual “bubble” conditions, their arrival is a boost for the Games at a time when polls indicate that a majority of Japanese want the Games to be postponed further or canceled altogether.
However, the organizers say detailed virus rule books will keep athletes and the public safe, and point out that about 80 percent of those in the Olympic Village will be vaccinated.
Before the team left Australia, the team said they were excited to return to play after a pandemic disruption. For some, Tokyo 2020 could be their last chance for Olympic glory, as softball will not feature in Paris 2024.
“We know it’s going to be a long journey, we know we’re going to go through a lot of Covid testing,” said player Jade Wall in Sydney.
“But look, we are all prepared, we want to do everything we can to make sure that we are safe when we get there and that we are also safe when we are in Japan.”
Vaccines for Japanese athletes
The team will only leave their hotel for games and practice, said David Pryles, CEO of Softball Australia, Monday.
But the trip is still a “huge” moment for the team, which interrupted their Olympic preparations due to the pandemic and haven’t played together since February 2020, he told AFP.
Their first game – against the hosts – kicks off on July 21, two days before the opening ceremony.
Many cities in Japan have canceled training camps for Olympic athletes for fear of viruses.
But Ota’s mayor, Masayoshi Shimizu, told reporters on Monday that the city was proud to “provide support to show our friendship” and maintain long-lasting ties with Australia.
In another sign of momentum towards the Games, the vaccinations of Japanese Olympic athletes will begin later on Tuesday.
They won’t queue as Japan’s relatively slow vaccine roll-out so far only applies to medical personnel and the elderly.
Just over seven percent of people in Japan have received a first dose so far, with about 2.5 percent fully vaccinated, although the pace has picked up in recent days.