Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games advertisements are displayed at Narita international airport [Reuters]

Ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the Japanese city of Kamo spent $640,000 on horizontal bars, gymnastic mats and other upgrades to training facilities for 42 Russian gymnasts and coaches who now won’t be coming.

The team scrapped plans for pre-Olympics training in Japan because of the resurgent Covid-19 pandemic, local officials said. Officials in the northwestern city of 25,000 say they regret the lost opportunity to host the team, even more than the money spent.

The Games, now less than eight weeks away after being delayed by a year, have been upended by COVID-19. Foreign spectators will not be allowed, and more than 100 municipalities have cancelled plans to host overseas teams.

“Local kids who could be future star gymnasts were disappointed to miss the opportunity to meet the Russian gymnasts,” Kamo official Hirokazu Suzuki told Reuters.

Although there is little Olympic buzz in host city Tokyo, which is under a state of emergency because of the pandemic, in smaller places like Kamo, which had been planning the camp since 2019, the disappointment is perhaps more palpable.

Most of the cancellations so far have been in the 500 or so municipalities involved in the Olympics “host town” programme, in which foreign teams base their pre-Games training in Japanese facilities.

In some cases, such as Australia’s judo team, the teams pulled out over safety concerns. In others, such as a delegation from Cuba set to stay in Higashimatsuyama city north of Tokyo, the municipalities decided not to host.

Organisers say the Games will be held safely. Several opinion polls have shown most Japanese people want the event to be cancelled or postponed again.

The national government earmarked 13 billion yen for municipalities to host training camps while imposing coronavirus measures, officials said.

Municipalities apart from Tokyo were expected to see a boost of about $110 billion through 2030 from the Games, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said in a March 2017 estimate.

“Training camps will give a huge impulse to the economies of towns and cities where they are held, but that is being lost,” said Katsuhiro Miyamoto, an emeritus professor of economics at Kansai University who studies the economic impact of the Olympics.

Officials in Narita, east of Tokyo, were caught by surprise when the United States’ track and field team informed them it had decided to pull out of planned a training camp.

 

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