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Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
TOKYO — The opening ceremony is Friday and the first competitions are Wednesday. But organizers of the Tokyo Olympics, delayed one year by the pandemic, are struggling to manage public anxiety about the Games after an outbreak of coronavirus cases that threaten to overshadow the festivities.
As about 20,000 athletes, coaches, referees and other officials have poured into Japan in recent days, more than two dozen of them have tested positive for the virus, including three cases within the Olympic Village. An additional 33 staff members or contractors who are Japanese residents working on the Games have tested positive.
The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee confirmed Monday that an alternate on the women’s gymnastics team had tested positive for the coronavirus while in training in Chiba prefecture outside Tokyo.
Kara Eaker, 18, of Grain Valley, Mo., tested positive early Monday and began a 10 to 14 day quarantine, her coach, Al Fong, said in a text message later that day from Tokyo. He added that she “feels fine.” Last month, in a video call with reporters, Eaker said she had received the vaccine.
Fong also said that Leanne Wong, Eaker’s teammate at his GAGE Center gym in Blue Springs, Mo., is also under quarantine because she is a considered a close contact. She is expected to remain in quarantine until about July 31, the coach said.
Wong, who is 17 and from Overland Park, Kansas, said at the Olympic trials earlier this month that she had not been vaccinated. Asked why she had made that choice, she said she wasn’t sure.
“I haven’t really talked to my parents about it much,” Wong said. “But I know they’re scientists, and they develop drugs as well, so they’re just waiting to get the vaccine.”
Olympics organizers have said their measures — including repeated testing, social distancing and restrictions on movement — would limit, but not eliminate, coronavirus cases. The Games, originally scheduled for 2020, were postponed a year in the hopes the pandemic would have eased by then and they would herald a triumphant return to normal.
Instead, they have become a reminder of the staying power of the virus and have fed a debate over whether Japan and the International Olympic Committee have their priorities straight.
Such is the unease that Toyota, one of the prime corporate sponsors of the Games, announced Monday it would not run any Olympic-themed television advertisements during them.
“There are many issues with these Games that are proving difficult to be understood,” Jun Nagata, the company’s chief communications officer, told reporters, according to The Associated Press.
The three people who tested positive inside the Olympic Village were from the South African soccer team, including two athletes and one official. They were isolated in a separate building while an additional 21 people in close contact with them are quarantining in their rooms.
Masa Takaya, a spokesman for the Tokyo organizing committee, said athletes who were in close contact with those who tested positive would be allowed to train if they otherwise follow the isolation restrictions. Athletes are tested daily and if they test negative within six hours of a competition, they will be allowed to play.
Another six athletes and two Olympics staff members from Britain were also isolating after they had been informed that they had sat near a person on their flight to Tokyo who had tested positive for the coronavirus at the airport.
The Associated Press reported that Ondřej Perušič’, a beach volleyball player competing for the Czech Republic, had also tested positive in the Olympic Village.
At a news conference over the weekend, Christophe Dubi, the International Olympic Committee’s sports director, said “there is no such thing as zero risk,” adding that through testing and rigorous contact tracing and quick isolation, the Olympic Village would be “a Covid-safe environment but not Covid free.”
The Japanese public remains anxious about the staging of the Olympics amid a slow rollout of vaccines and a recent rise in coronavirus cases in the capital. Daily case counts have exceeded 1,000 for several days for the first time since mid-May. Tokyo is under a state of emergency. A poll by the Kyodo News, a wire service, released over the weekend showed 87 percent of those surveyed said they were worried about hosting the Olympics during the pandemic.
Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
The Summer Olympics always start a couple of days before the opening ceremony, which is Friday.
The Games even have a nomenclature for these early bird events. Saturday, when the Olympics really get going, is officially Day 1; the opening ceremony takes place on Day 0, and the earlier competitions are Days -1 and -2.
So here’s what’s on tap for Day -2, better known as Wednesday (or Tuesday night in the Eastern United States).
The Games begin at 9 a.m. Tokyo time (8 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday) when Australia and Japan play the first game of a softball triple header. The United States, who play Italy three hours later, are the heavy softball favorites, but Japan is considered to have the best chance to upset them.
Later in the day, six women’s soccer games will get underway, including the World Cup champions, the United States, against Sweden at 5:30 p.m. (4:30 a.m. Eastern for the early birds).
On Day -1, or Thursday if you insist, men’s soccer and baseball games are scheduled. The U.S. baseball team opens against Canada, after which the favored home team Japan takes on Mexico.
In men’s soccer, one of the marquee matches of pool play will match two of the favorites: Germany and Brazil.
Two more sports get underway on Friday, Day 0, before the opening ceremony at 8 p.m. Tokyo time (7 a.m. Eastern). There are several heats in rowing, and an archery round that serves to rank the competitors for the later knockout stages.
Also listed on the schedule are “pre-event training” in shooting and a “horse inspection” for equestrians.
One thing all these preamble events have in common: None will eliminate any athletes or teams. When the opening ceremony begins, everyone will still theoretically have a shot at gold.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
TOKYO — It is almost too hot for beach volleyball.
The Summer Olympics are expected to be the hottest on record, and the potentially dangerous heat is already having an impact days before Friday’s opening ceremony.
Tokyo citizens this week are being warned not to exercise outside, but Olympic athletes have little choice but to confront the city’s wicked — and sometimes deadly — combination of heat and humidity.
At outdoor venues around the city, like Shiokaze Park, home of beach volleyball, last-minute preparations are being made to protect athletes, officials and volunteers.
During training sessions on Monday morning, volleyball players found the sand too hot for their feet. Workers hosed down the sand to make it palatable, and athletes huddled under umbrellas to hide from the searing sun.
Japan’s Ministry of the Environment uses a color-coded scale to warn residents about the dangers. Much of Monday in Tokyo was categorized as “orange (severe warning),” because of temperatures 82.4 to 87.8 degrees Fahrenheit (28 to 31 degrees Celsius).
“Heavy exercise prohibited,” the warning stated.
In some parts of central Tokyo, afternoon temperatures over 88 degrees (31 Celsius) elicited a higher warning: “Exercise prohibited.”
In Hachioji, a suburb west of Tokyo, up to 32 people were hospitalized Monday with heatstroke, according to a local television report.
Japan takes the heat seriously. In 2018 and 2019, more than 1,000 people died of heat-related illnesses, the government reported.
The worry grows with global warming, but it is not new. Tokyo held the 1964 Summer Games in October largely to avoid the midsummer heat, but never pitched the 2020 Olympics outside of the July and August time frame that the International Olympic Committee and broadcast partners like NBC prefer. Concerns over heat danger were raised in 2013 when the city was awarded the 2020 Summer Games.
Tokyo vowed to install all sorts of cooling measures, from the practical to the whimsical.
The proposed marathon course was coated with a heat-reflecting material in 2019, but the race was eventually moved to Sapporo, about 500 miles away and usually cooler than Tokyo. (On Monday, Sapporo was expected to reach 91 degrees Fahrenheit.)
Other plans are being put into place, including extra cooling tents, misting fans and ice-packed vests for officials. Some events will have air-conditioned lounges and ice baths available for athletes. Equestrian will have a shaded “horse cooling station.”
While heat-index monitors will track conditions at the venues, it is unclear what thresholds must be reached to stop or postpone events.
One big worry for the past few years has been protecting hundreds of thousands of fans — an issue that was erased by the pandemic, as events will be contested in mostly empty venues.
The forecast for the rest of this week suggests no relief on the way.
Some events were intentionally scheduled during cooler hours. The sun sets around 7 p.m., and temperatures tend to fall overnight to about 75 degrees Fahrenheit. But with sunrise well before 5 a.m., temperatures typically rise quickly in the morning.
Road cycling, for example, on a 151-mile course, will hold its men’s event on Saturday beginning at 11 a.m. local time, in the midday heat.
Beach volleyball begins Saturday, too, with matches scheduled all day. The forecast: hot sand and ample concern.
Toyota said on Monday that it has decided against running Olympics-themed television advertisements in Japan, a symbolic vote of no confidence from one of the country’s most influential companies just days before the Games begin amid a national state of emergency.
The Japanese public has expressed strong opposition to the Games — delayed for a year because of the pandemic — with many worrying that the influx of visitors from around the world could turn it into a Covid-19 superspreader event, undoing national efforts to keep coronavirus levels low.
Toyota will refrain from airing television ads at home during the Games and its chief executive, Akio Toyoda, will not attend the opening ceremony, a company spokesman told local news media during an online news conference.
“Various aspects of this Olympics aren’t accepted by the public,” said the spokesman, Jun Nakada, according to the business daily Yomiuri Shimbun.
The ads will still be shown in other markets, Toyota Motor North America said in a statement. “In the U.S., the campaign has already been shown nationally and will continue to be shown as planned with our media partners during the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020,” the statement said.
The company had prepared ads for the event but will not air them because of concerns that emphasizing its connection to the Games could create a backlash, according to a person familiar with the company’s thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
Toyota will continue its commitments to supporting Olympic athletes and providing transportation services during the Games, a spokesman said.
The vast majority of the Japanese public is opposed to holding the Games — set to begin on Friday — under current conditions, polling shows, with many calling for them to be canceled outright.
Japanese authorities and Olympic officials have played down the concerns, saying that strict precautions against the coronavirus will allow the Games to be held safely.
Anxieties have continued to mount, however. Earlier this month, Tokyo entered its fourth state of emergency in an effort to stop a sudden rise in virus cases as the country faces the more contagious Delta variant. Cases, which remain low in comparison to many other developed nations, have mounted to more than 1,000 a day in the city, raising apprehension that measures that had succeeded in controlling the spread of the coronavirus could be losing their effectiveness.
Further complicating the situation is a steady drip of news reports about Olympic staff and athletes testing positive for the illness after arriving in Japan.
Toyota became a top Olympic sponsor in 2015, joining an elite class of corporate supporters that pay top dollar for the exclusive right to displays the iconic rings of the Games in their advertising.
Until the pandemic hit, the company was one of the most visible supporters of the Olympics. In the run-up to the event, much of Tokyo’s taxi fleet was replaced with a sleek, new Toyota model prominently featuring the company’s logo alongside the Olympic rings. And the company pledged to make the event a showcase for its technological innovations, including self-driving vehicles to ferry athletes around the Olympic Village.
Credit…South Korean Foreign Ministry, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
SEOUL — South Korea said on Monday that its president, Moon Jae-in, will not visit Tokyo during the Olympics, scrapping plans for his first-ever summit meeting with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan.
The decision came days after a senior Japanese diplomat in Seoul was accused of making a belittling comment against Mr. Moon. The diplomatic squabble was likely to further inflame relations, despite Washington’s hopes that its two most important allies in East Asia would overcome their historical disputes and work closer together to counter North Korea and China.
The talks between Seoul and Tokyo to arrange an Olympics summit meeting had made significant progress, Seoul officials said. But they unraveled after JTBC, a South Korean cable channel, reported on Friday that Hirohisa Soma, deputy chief of mission at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, ridiculed Mr. Moon with a lewd comment during a meeting with one of its reporters.
Mr. Moon’s diplomatic overtures toward Japan are tantamount to “masturbating” because Japan “does not have the time to care about bilateral relations as much as South Korea hopes,” Mr. Soma was quoted as saying.
Koichi Aiboshi, the Japanese ambassador to Seoul, said Mr. Soma’s comment, although “inappropriate,” was not directed against Mr. Moon. During a regular press briefing in Tokyo on Monday, Katsunobu Kato, the chief cabinet secretary, also called Mr. Soma’s remark “inappropriate” and “very regrettable.”
But the damage was done.
On Monday, Park Soo-hyun, a senior press secretary for Mr. Moon, said the South Korean leader has decided not to visit Tokyo, considering “various circumstances.”
“We wish Japan a safe and successful Olympics,” Mr. Park said. Under Mr. Moon, relations between the neighboring countries have sunk to one of the lowest points in recent decades, as mutual animosity deepened over issues rooted in Japan’s colonial rule of Korea from 1910 to 1945, such as “comfort women” sex slaves and wartime forced labor.
Mr. Moon’s canceled trip dashed hopes that the Tokyo Games might offer the rivals an opportunity for a fresh start.
“Seoul and Tokyo have put pride and domestic politics above the Biden administration’s appeals for strategic alignment,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. Even before Mr. Soma’s comment, public opinion polls showed that most South Koreans did not want Mr. Moon to visit Tokyo.
South Korean athletes in the Olympic Village in Tokyo unfurled banners at their balconies this month that referred to a 16th-century war between Korea and Japan. Right-wing Japanese commentators took umbrage.
On Saturday, the South Korean Olympic committee said it removed the banners, but not before receiving a promise from the International Olympic Committee that the Japanese “rising sun” flag will be barred at Olympic venues. Koreans resent the flag, portraying a red sun with rays extending outward, as a symbol of Japan’s wartime aggression.
Credit…Pool photo by Akio Kon
Competitors arriving at the Tokyo Olympics have discovered something unusual about the beds in the athletes’ village: They’re made of cardboard.
Some have shared images on social media of the modular bed frames, which are made by the Japanese company Airweave and are recyclable. Organizers say it is the first time that the beds at the Games will be made almost entirely out of renewable materials.
But in the time of the coronavirus, when Olympic organizers worried about transmission are trying to discourage close contact as much as possible, the unusual bed frames have led some to suggest there’s another motive behind them.
Paul Chelimo, an American distance runner, speculated on Twitter that the beds were unable to support more than one person and were “aimed at avoiding intimacy among athletes.” Soon the beds were being labeled on social media as “anti-sex.”
Rhys McClenaghan, a gymnast from Ireland, called the claim “fake news.” A video he posted on Twitter showed him jumping on his bed to demonstrate that it would hold up against vigorous activity. The official Olympics Twitter account reposted Mr. McClenaghan’s video, adding: “Thanks for debunking the myth.”