Tokyo Olympics Volunteers Quit in Their Thousands As Future of Games Under Threat

The fate of the Tokyo Olympics has been dealt a fresh blow after thousands of volunteers who had signed up for the Games have quit.

Japanese broadcaster NHK reported on Wednesday that approximately 10,000 of the 80,000 volunteers who will help throughout the Olympics and Paralympics Games have had a change of heart. NHK cited the Games' organizing committee as the source for the figure.

Speaking to Japanese daily Nikkei, Tokyo 2020 organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto admitted concerns over coronavirus could have played a part in the withdrawals.

"There's no mistake that concerns over the coronavirus could have factored in," he was quoted as saying about the volunteers.

In March last year, the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo organizers took the unprecedented decision of postponing the Games by 12 months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Japan is now scheduled to host the opening ceremony on July 23, exactly a year on from the original date.

However, public opinion in Japan is overwhelmingly in favor of calling the Games off altogether.

Recent polls have shown that as many as 83 percent of Japanese people oppose the idea of holding the Olympics this summer.

The arrival of athletes, Olympic delegations and journalists is seen by many as having the capacity to act as a "super-spreader" event in the country. Initially praised for its response to the coronavirus pandemic, Japan has since been criticized for a painfully slow vaccine rollout.

As of Wednesday morning, Japan had reported just under 753,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 13,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. However, approximately only 2.3 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

As this graphic provided by Statista shows, Japan lags well behind other countries in the race to vaccinate its entire population.

Vaccine rollout across the world
A graphic illustrating the race towards full vaccination in countries across the world. Statista

Many parts of Japan remain in a state of emergency and Omi acknowledged that should the Games go ahead this summer, "it's the Olympic organizers' responsibility to downsize the scale of the event and strengthen coronavirus control measures as much as possible."

He added: "It's only when there is a clear reason to host the Games that the public will get on board [...] it's very important for those involved in the Olympics to clarify their vision and the reason for hosting the Games."

His stance contrasts sharply with that of IOC vice president John Coates, who in May insisted that the Olympics would go ahead "even if Tokyo is still under a state of emergency," during a virtual news conference with Tokyo organizers.

Last week, opponents of the Games were given a boost after a major Japanese newspaper called for the Olympics to be canceled.

The Asahi Shimbun—a liberal newspaper and an official Olympic partner—called for prime minister Yoshihide Suga to listen to the widespread public opposition and "to calmly and objectively assess the situation and decide on the cancelation of the event this summer."

Tokyo 2020 Olympics protests
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 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. Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images