The Olympic rings.

More than half of Tokyo Olympic Road Race volunteers have pulled out

With more than 80% of Japanese citizens opposed to the Olympics, volunteer numbers are taking a hit.

by Iain Treloar

photography by Cor Vos

The long, drawn-out build up to the 2020 2021 Tokyo Olympics is going … interestingly. 

In the face of a spike in COVID-19 cases in the country, support for the Olympics going ahead has plummeted among Japanese citizens. A staggering 83% of the population want the event cancelled or postponed, according to one recent poll, and 85% fear that the Games will lead to an influx of coronavirus cases. Tokyo is in an extended state of emergency, and there are 45 days until the opening ceremony. 

The road cycling events, which are to be held in Yamanashi Prefecture near Mount Fuji on July 24 and 25, are a microcosmic view of the broader unease that has infiltrated the final preparations for the Games. According to the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri, more than half of the 163 volunteers required for the Olympic road races for traffic guidance and visitor support have pulled out, many citing fear of COVID-19 transmission. 

That’s nothing compared to the 10,000 volunteers that have withdrawn across the Olympics as a whole, but nonetheless is a further drop of evidence in a rapidly growing pool that all may not be well. 

Nonetheless, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is committed to the event forging ahead – in part because of the billions of dollars it has sunk into the event and stands to make. Meanwhile, under the terms of its contract, Japan can’t pull out, even if it wanted to, which it can’t really say without further torpedoing public confidence.

So onward we go: to an Olympics Road Race which will have less than half of the volunteers it wanted, for a race without foreign spectators in a country where more than four-fifths of inhabitants don’t want it.

Editors' Picks