Pandemic puts Fukushima host town for Thai Olympic boxers on edge

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A whole lot of Japanese cities that registered to host abroad athletes for coaching camps forward of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics stay below a cloud of uncertainty concerning the affect the novel coronavirus pandemic may have on their plans.

The northeastern metropolis of Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, has been making ready to welcome Thailand’s nationwide boxing staff and assist its members get into high form for about two weeks earlier than they’re to compete within the Summer season Video games, set to open in July after a one-year postponement.

Because the staff’s “host city,” officers and the boxing neighborhood within the metropolis have additionally thought-about the Tokyo Olympics an opportunity to advertise worldwide exchanges with Thailand and develop the game domestically.

Nevertheless, they’re now scrambling to give you efficient measures to guard the well being of athletes, regardless of not realizing what to anticipate subsequent summer time.

“To begin with, will the athletes really come to our metropolis?” requested Yoshikatsu Suzuki, an Aizuwakamatsu official answerable for this system. “How ought to we put together our medical system? The virus is our greatest concern, particularly what we should always do if an athlete contracts it.

“There are such a lot of issues we have to take into account,” he mentioned, regardless of town having reported simply 42 complete infections as of Dec. 26.

Recognized for its well-known fortress, in addition to high quality sake and sizzling springs, town was named host city for Thailand in 2016 below an initiative run by the Japanese authorities encouraging municipalities nationwide to welcome abroad athletes to coach and spend time with locals.

The initiative, which the federal government describes as the primary of its form for the Olympics and Paralympics, has over 500 municipalities throughout Japan enrolled to host athletes and assist workers from about 180 international locations and areas.

Having labored intently for years with a Thai firm in a challenge to construct a big solar energy plant in Aizuwakamatsu, town wished to assist the Southeast Asian nation in a roundabout way.

Aizuwakamatsu has additionally seen an rising variety of vacationers from Thailand lately and thought working with the staff would be the excellent option to increase the profile of town.

A neighborhood group selling nearer ties with Thailand has held a number of occasions introducing the nation’s tradition and language. Town has additionally provided alternatives for residents to study their friends, together with internet hosting a cooking class by the proprietor of a Thai restaurant.

“I need (the host city program) to assist strengthen {our relationships}. I need extra folks within the metropolis to know extra about Thailand,” mentioned Sota Sato, who leads the Aizu Japan-Thailand Friendship Affiliation.

The officers even have nice hopes that internet hosting Thai boxers may have an enduring affect. Aizuwakamatsu, which has a inhabitants of about 120,000, has a powerhouse highschool boxing membership.

“I wished youngsters (who’ve taken up the game) to see from up shut the coaching of the world’s high athletes. You possibly can inform the facility of the boxers by watching them follow from the ringside,” mentioned Katsushi Kamiyama, who heads town’s boxing federation.

“The youngsters have been coaching very onerous, so will probably be very inspiring for them.”

Aizuwakamatsu in Fukushima Prefecture has a strong link with boxing and Thai boxing. | KYODO
Aizuwakamatsu in Fukushima Prefecture has a powerful hyperlink with boxing and Thai boxing. | KYODO

After internet hosting camps for the staff in 2018 and 2019, Aizuwakamatsu had deliberate to ask Thai boxers again once more in 2020 with coaching periods set to be accompanied by visits to native faculties and different alternate actions.

The Olympics and Paralympics, nevertheless, have been postponed in March because of the pandemic, simply two days earlier than Japan’s leg of the video games’ torch relay was scheduled to start out in Fukushima Prefecture.

Now, the Japanese authorities is urging host cities to implement strict anti-virus measures to guard the well being of athletes. Whereas cultural exchanges have been a pillar of the initiative, it has mentioned they need to not come into shut contact with native residents, recommending interactions happen on-line or after the video games shut.

Thailand has comparatively few circumstances of COVID-19, whereas Japan has been preventing with file numbers of confirmed circumstances and hospitalizations since November. The worst-hit areas are massive cities like Tokyo and Osaka.

“The scenario with the virus remains to be not below management, and we shall be internet hosting athletes who can presumably win medals on the Olympics. It’s a large deal if certainly one of them turns into contaminated,” Suzuki mentioned.

Every host city is required by the central authorities to compile COVID-19 countermeasure tips that should be adopted by native authorities and abroad guests, together with find out how to present transport for athletes and take anti-virus steps at coaching services.

Whereas there isn’t a concrete time-frame, such tips should be submitted for approval to the federal government, which is able to shoulder vital prices for the measures and virus testing in host cities.

Then, cities, cities and villages must signal an settlement with representatives of the nation or area they’re internet hosting that guidelines shall be abided by, roughly a month earlier than the arrival of athletes, in accordance with a Cupboard Secretariat official.

Nevertheless, Kamiyama, who additionally owns Aizuwakamatsu’s sole boxing health club with about 200 members, mentioned there could also be a restrict to what may be achieved to stop infections throughout coaching due to the game’s nature.

“Boxing is a contact sport so athletes received’t be capable of social distance. We are able to ask them to place their masks on, however would they really do this? Will probably be sizzling in the summertime and their masks shall be soaked with sweat. The gloves may also have sweat and saliva,” Kamiyama, 42, mentioned.

When a bunch of twenty-two boxers skilled in Aizuwakamatsu for about one week in August, 2019, they have been joined by about 25 athletes from Japan’s nationwide staff, coached by a former Olympian who’s a local of town.

Follow periods have been held in entrance of native residents, and Thai boxers additionally visited vacationer spots and tried out Japanese meals within the metropolis. Throughout their camp in 2018, the athletes additionally visited an elementary college.

“We have been advised by the athletes that they have been glad that they participated. The scholars who interacted with them have been actually excited too” Suzuki mentioned.

Native residents additionally performed a component within the elite athletes’ coaching periods. A bunch of highschool boxers helped out by making ready their drinks and mopping sweat from the ground of the health club.

“They have been very highly effective and hard,” mentioned Haruto Osumi, 18. “Even when they took two punches, they simply managed to return three. I wish to be like that.”

With the Tokyo Olympics set to open in lower than seven months, the Japanese capital and different areas of the nation are dealing with a number of challenges.

Along with seeing file numbers of infections, an enormous headache for Tokyo officers is that they’ve been struggling to construct momentum for the Olympics amid public concern over security and ballooning prices.

Greater than 60% of people that responded to a Kyodo Information survey in December have been in opposition to holding the video games subsequent summer time.

A a lot smaller municipality than Aizuwakamatsu, Osaki in Kagoshima Prefecture, is ready to host athletes from Trinidad and Tobago, in addition to Taiwan’s athletics staff.

The city, with its inhabitants of about 12,000, hopes that welcoming top-class athletes from abroad will generate pleasure and be an encouragement for its residents, mentioned Kenji Nakamura, an Osaki official.

Nevertheless, the city doesn’t have a hospital that may deal with coronavirus sufferers.

“Our well being care system is fragile. Regardless that residents is not going to come into contact with athletes, there’s nonetheless a chance that officers can contract the virus,” Nakamura mentioned. “Since we’re required to accompany athletes to coaching venues and make it possible for precautionary measures are carried out, our obligations have elevated. I fear if we now have sufficient workers to handle all the things.”

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