Australian softball team becomes 1st to be in Japan for Olympics
Written by tokyoclub on June 1, 2021
Members of the Australian women’s softball team on Tuesday became the first group of athletes to arrive in Japan for a pre-Olympic training camp since the Tokyo Games were postponed more than a year ago due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The squad’s arrival at Narita airport, near Tokyo, came with about 50 days to go before the opening of the Olympics and the Japanese public, concerned about a surge in COVID-19 infections, largely against holding such a global sporting event this summer.
Members of the Australian women’s softball team arrive at Narita airport on June 1, 2021. (Kyodo)
The 23 “Aussie Spirit” players and five staff, who came via Singapore, will start pre-Olympics training in Ota, Gunma Prefecture, northwest of Tokyo, on Saturday.
All team members, who have received coronavirus vaccinations, will be under strict restrictions while in Japan, where infections have been declining at a slow pace.
The team members will be required to undergo daily virus testing and be prevented from interacting with the general public, with all sleeping, dining and meeting rooms confined to a single floor in their hotel.
The players and staff will only be allowed to leave the hotel to travel to and from their training facilities. The team will train for over a month, during which it will play practice matches against clubs from the Japanese professional softball league and universities.
Japanese cities and towns have been facing challenges to ensure the safety of athletes and residents amid rising concerns over the spread of highly contagious coronavirus variants, while Tokyo and some other areas of the country remain under a state of emergency with people asked to avoid nonessential outings.
As of last Wednesday, a total of 78 municipalities had called off programs to receive overseas athletes for pre-Olympic training camps and cultural exchanges due to COVID-19 concerns, according to the Japanese government.
Since 2018, Aussie Spirit has held three training camps in Ota and had exchanges with local people through school visits and other events. To prevent the spread of infections, team members will not meet locals directly this time and online exchange events are being planned.
In the past, local high school students participated in events with Australia’s national softball team.
“I wanted to let (my students) interact with the players. If only coronavirus hadn’t existed,” said Risa Akutsu, who coaches an Ota girls’ high school softball team.
The Australian team will move into the Olympic village on July 17 before playing its opening Olympic match against Japan on July 21 at Fukushima Azuma stadium. The official opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics is set for July 23.
Australia was among the teams competing at the 1996 Atlanta Games when softball made its debut and it has gone on to win one silver and three bronze medals.