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‘Belittling human lives’: How pandemic pushed Olympic volunteer to quit

09:36 PM June 03, 2021
tokyo olympics japan

A red traffic light lights up on a street near the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building displaying a banners of Tokyo 2020 Olympics Games in Tokyo on May 31, 2021 after the announcement that the governemrnt extended a coronavirus emergency in Tokyo and other parts of the country until just a month before the Olympics. (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

TOKYO— Jun Hatakeyama applied to be an Olympic volunteer, filled with excitement that he could witness something greater than the Tokyo Games previously held in 1964.

But what he saw instead were mounting problems, including a plagiarism controversy over the Olympic logo and rising construction costs for Olympic venues.

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His doubts about whether the Olympics should actually be held came to a head as Japan faced waves of COVID-19 and several states of emergency, eventually leading him to quit in April.

“I decided to resign to protect my own safety and to declare that I’m against holding the Olympics,” said the 21-year-old university student, who lives in a prefecture east of Tokyo.

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Reuters wideo interview with university student Hatakeyama who quit being an Olympic volunteer. REUTERS 

Hatakeyama is one of about 10,000 of the 80,000 volunteers who have quit the Games because of worries over the pandemic and scheduling issues, according to numbers confirmed by the organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto on Wednesday.

Muto said fewer volunteers would not impact operations given no foreign spectators and a downscaling of events.

Tokyo 2020, already postponed from last year at the cost of an extra $3.5 billion, is set to start on July 23.

But with a slow vaccine rollout, Tokyo and nine other regions under a state of emergency, and rising numbers of severe coronavirus cases, most Japanese oppose hosting the Olympics.

“At a time when people have repeatedly been enduring the life of not being able to meet the people they want to meet for over a year, is it possible to hold a sports festival like the Olympics? Rather, is it necessary to hold the Games?” Hatakeyama said.

Doctors have warned the Olympics would pressure the healthcare system already under strain as they scramble find beds and staff, and warn of system collapse. Only 2.9% of the public have completed their inoculations, a Reuters tracker shows.

“The medical system is strained due to the coronavirus so if they were to hold the Olympics and the infections spread, who would take responsibility?,” asked Hatakeyama in a Zoom interview with Reuters. “It’s belittling human lives.”

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