Pre-Olympic camps, test events cancelled in Japan amid virus fears
TOKYO – The Japanese city of Hiratsuka has spent five years fostering stronger ties with Lithuania ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
In less than five months before the Games, however, city officials had to ask Lithuanian athletes not to come to the city amid fears of the novel coronavirus.
Two javelin throwers, including a Paralympic athlete, and two staff members from Lithuania were scheduled to hold a pre-Olympic training camp in the seaside city west of Tokyo from March 10 to April 2. But city officials suggested it be cancelled.
"We do not want anything to happen to top athletes like them," city official Taishi Takanashi told dpa. "I believe children are very disappointed as the two javelin throwers were scheduled to visit two primary schools and two junior high schools in the city.
"Some high school students and college students were planning to practise throwing a javelin together with the athletes."
Lithuania has sent its top athletes to Hiratsuka for training camps since 2017 and the city has provided opportunities for its citizens to interact with them.
Lithuania is not the only country to cancel a pre-Olympic camp in Japan. Mongolia decided not to send judo and archery players to Japanese cities for camps as the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus that originated in China has grown across Japan.
Japan has so far confirmed more than 1,100 cases of the infection, including about 700 on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in the port of Yokohama. Twelve people died of Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
The outbreak also forced the Japan Para Sports Association to cancel a test event for Paralympic wheelchair rugby originally scheduled to take place in mid-March. A sport climbing test event was held without athletes on Friday. Instead, organizers let staff members climb up the wall.
The south-western city of Kitakyushu also recently received the disappointing news that Colombia's table tennis players and gymnastics athletes would not hold planned camps there in late February.
Athletes from several countries participated in training camps in Kitakyushu last year. Thailand's taekwondo team already had a pre-Olympic camp in September and Britain's wheelchair rugby team visited in October.
Kitakyushu won international headlines last year for its residents' warm welcome to the Welsh rugby team during their camp ahead of the rugby World Cup.
Training camps like these "enable residents to get a close look at top athletes' performances," city official Yoichiro Okamoto said.
"They offer residents a chance for international exchanges and also help invigorate the city."
In the western city of Mimasaka, the US women's rugby team planned to hold a training camp in late March, but it was called off as the Hong Kong and Singapore rounds of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens series were postponed to October from April due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Local residents "are disappointed at the news" as about 30 people were supposed to stay in Mimasaka, known for its peaches and hot springs, city official Shinsuke Nakamura said.
Despite the cancellation, Nakamura sounded optimistic, saying US men's and women's rugby teams are scheduled to hold training camps in Mimasaka in July ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
Almost all cultural and sports events have now been called off in Japan due to the outbreak of the virus, and office workers are now encouraged to work from home.
Football's J-League has postpone all games scheduled until mid-March while pre-season professional baseball games are being played in empty stadiums.
Elsewhere, this year's Tokyo Marathon was drastically downsized in the Olympic Games host city on March 1. Organizers decided to hold the race only for elite runners and wheelchair elite while about 38,000 runners in the "general entry" category were no longer able to participate.
There are fears the outbreak threatens the Tokyo Olympics themselves, though the International Olympic Committee executive board said in a statement on Tuesday that it "expressed its full commitment to the success of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, taking place from July 24 to August 9 2020."DPA