10,000 volunteers drop from Tokyo Olympics due to COVID-19

10,000 volunteers will not participate in the Tokyo Olympics, set to open in 50 days, due to COVID-19 worries.


KANTARO KOMIYA/Associated Press

People walk past the countdown clock for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games near Shimbashi station in Tokyo, June 3, 2021, to mark 50 days before the start of the Summer Games.


TOKYO — The countdown clock for the Tokyo Olympics hit 50 days Thursday, and the day brought another problem for the delayed games.

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

Organizers said some dropped out due to worries about COVID-19. Few volunteers are expected to be vaccinated since most will have no contact with athletes or other key personnel.

Only about 2-3% of Japan’s general population has been fully vaccinated in a slow rollout that is only now speeding up. Conversely, the International Olympic Committee 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.”

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

Unpaid volunteers are a key workforce in running the Olympics and save organizers millions of dollars in salaries. Volunteers typically get a uniform and meals on the days they work. Their daily commuting costs are also covered. 

To celebrate the 50-day mark, organizers unveiled the podiums, costumes and music that will be used during the medal ceremonies. 

Tokyo is officially spending $15.4 billion to organize the Olympics, but 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.

Japan has attributed just over 13,000 deaths to COVID-19, far lower than most comparable countries, but higher than many Asian neighbors.

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