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With 50 days to go, 10,000 Tokyo Olympics volunteers have dropped out

Tokyo Olympics countdown clock shows 50 days till the Summer Games
A countdown clock in Tokyo reminds passersby how many days are left before the Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games begin.
(Kantaro Komiya / Associated Press)

About 10,000 of 80,000 unpaid volunteers for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics have told organizers that they will not participate when the Games open July 23.

The pullouts came as a countdown clock in Tokyo on Thursday reminded passersby that there are just 50 days to go until the pandemic-delayed Summer Games begin, a year after they were originally scheduled to take place.

Organizers said some volunteers dropped out because of worries about the coronavirus. Few volunteers are expected to be vaccinated, but most will have no contact with athletes or other key personnel.

Only about 2% to 3% of Japan’s general population is fully inoculated in a very slow vaccination rollout that is just now speeding up. Conversely, the IOC expects at least 80% of athletes and residents of the Olympic Village to be fully vaccinated.

“We have not confirmed the individual reasons,” organizers said in a statement. “In addition to concerns about the coronavirus infection, some dropped out because they found it would be difficult to actually work after checking their work shift, or due to changes in their own environment.”

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Organizers said the loss would not affect the operations of the postponed Olympics.

With 3% of its population vaccinated, and Tokyo and other prefectures under extended states of emergency, there’s no justification for Japan hosting the Olympics.

Support for the Olympics continues to lag in Japan, with 50% to 80% — depending how the question is phrased — saying the Games should not open July 23.

Unpaid volunteers are a key workforce in running the Olympics and save organizers millions of dollars in salaries. Volunteers typically get a uniform, meals on the days they work and have daily commuting costs covered. They pay for their own lodging.

A study conducted for the International Olympic Committee on volunteers at the 2000 Sydney Olympics said their value was at least $60 million for 40,000 volunteers.

Tokyo is officially spending $15.4 billion to organize the Olympics, and several government audits say it’s much more. All but $6.7 billion is public money. The IOC’s contribution is about $1.5 billion.


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