MELBOURNE (REUTERS) – Samoa is withdrawing its weightlifting team from the Tokyo Games because of Covid-19 curbs, its Olympic committee said on Thursday (July 1), the latest setback for Japan’s fraught efforts to stage the world’s biggest sporting event during a pandemic.
Eleven Samoan athletes have qualified for the Games, but of them only three, its weightlifters, are based in Samoa and have been barred from attending the event set to start later this month, committee president Patrick Fepuleai told Reuters.
“We are still under a state of emergency, we’re in lockdown,” he told Reuters by phone. The Pacific island nation will have a presence at the Games as the other athletes who are already overseas are clear to go, he added.
Disappointed by the news, Samoa’s weightlifting boss, Tuaopepe Jerry Wallwork, told Reuters: “It’s terrible, it’s disheartening, it’s very disheartening.
“There will be a huge impact on the athletes, we put in many years preparing for the event.”
The Summer Games are scheduled to start on July 23, after a year’s delay due to the pandemic. But polls show a majority of Japanese still oppose holding the event this year amid warnings from health experts that it could unleash another wave of infections and spawn new, more potent variants.
Japan is likely to extend coronavirus prevention measures in the greater Tokyo region by two weeks or more, government sources said, after new infections in the capital rose on Wednesday to 714, the highest in more than a month.
Depending on the extent of the strain on the medical system, the government may reinstate a state of full emergency for Tokyo, the sources added.
Tokyo and three neighbouring prefectures are among areas under a ‘quasi’ state of emergency until July 11, and retaining the curbs could affect the number of spectators allowed into Olympic venues, the sources said.
The leader of one of Japan’s ruling parties said organisers should consider holding the Games without spectators, national broadcaster NHK reported.
“I hope they make a timely decision, and consider the possibility of not allowing spectators,” said Natsuo Yamaguchi, who is head of Komeito, the junior partner in the ruling coalition with the Liberal Democratic Party.
The Covid-19 situation has also prompted officials in the prefecture of Fukushima to cancel events planned to showcase its recovery from devastation by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which led to the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
The prefecture, forever synonymous with nuclear calamity, is to host baseball and softball events at a stadium about 70km from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station owned by Tokyo Electric Power on the Pacific coast.
Events to promote the prefecture’s food and other products, while giving spectators information on efforts to revive evacuated towns as areas get cleared of radiation fallout, will all be cancelled because of virus curbs, its governor said.
“We have to cancel, given the current situation,” Governor Masao Uchibori, told a news conference in a video on the prefecture’s website. “I’m not going to lie – I resent this novel coronavirus.”
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