SYDNEY – (AP) – The Australian Olympic softball team departed Sydney for Japan on Monday and will be among the first to arrive for the Tokyo Games.
The so-called Aussie Spirit will be at camp in Ota City, north of Tokyo, and cut the squad from 23 to 15 ahead of their Olympic opener against host Japan on July 21 – two days before the opening ceremony official.
The softball team will come at a time of increasing pressure on Japanese organizers, with polls in Japan showing a majority of people want the Olympics to be delayed or canceled again due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fans abroad have previously been barred from attending the Olympics, and there is growing speculation that matches will be played in empty stadiums.
The state of emergency in Tokyo, Osaka and other prefectures was extended last week until June 20 as COVID-19 cases continue to put pressure on the medical system.
Cancellation pressure increases daily on Tokyo organizers and the International Olympic Committee as more questions arise about the risks of bringing 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes from more than 200 countries and territories to Japan.
The IOC says more than 80% of athletes and staff staying in the Tokyo Bay Olympic Village will be vaccinated. They are expected to largely remain in a bubble in the village and at the sites.
Softball Australia chief executive David Pryles said the team, which have not played against international opposition since February 2020, will take “the utmost care” in terms of public safety and protection.
“All staff and players traveling to Japan today are fully immunized thanks to the Australian Olympic Committee,” said Pryles. “They will also undergo rigorous testing and checks from the moment they land at the airport and throughout their camp and (the) Olympics.”
Pryles said players’ movements would be limited to a level at the team’s hotel in Ota, which would include meals, meetings and gym work, and the stadium where they would play a series of matches against teams. local professionals and two games against the Japanese national team. .
“We are extremely grateful to the people of the city of Ota and their government for hosting the team that will abide by the restrictions placed on us,” he said.
Ian Chesterman, the head of the Australian Olympic contingent, said athletes and officials were “very comfortable” with the precautions put in place for the Tokyo Games.
“These athletes. . . are determined not only to take care of themselves, but also to do the right thing on the part of the Japanese people, and to be ready for the games, ”said Chesterman. “And I think we’re very comfortable with the protocols that have been put in place to manage not only this group of athletes but also the Australian team when we get there.”
Australia are aiming for their first Olympic gold in softball, having won silver or bronze in 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008 before the sport was banned from the program for 2012 and 2016.
“It’s definitely a giant challenge that they face, but they are up for this challenge, they want this challenge, and they want to go out there and represent their country and continue the very proud tradition that this team has at. Olympics ”, Chesterman“ It’s an exciting time for all of us involved in the Olympic team because it’s really another key milestone that we’re taking, just as our first athletes leave for Japan, ready to prepare for. Games.”
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