Tokyo Olympics opens in 50 days, 10,000 volunteers drop out amid COVID-19 fears

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The countdown clock for the Tokyo Olympics sat at 50-days-to-go on Thursday. It also brought another problem for the one-year-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 on July 23.

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Organizers said some dropped out because of 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 two to three percent of Japan’s general population is fully vaccinated in a very slow rollout that is just now speeding up. Conversely, the IOC expects at least 80 percent 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. Organizers planned a small event later in the day to mark the milestone in trying to pull off the first postponed Olympics.

Support for the Olympics continues to lag in Japan with 50-80 percent — depending how the question is phrased — saying the games should not open on July 23.

Unpaid volunteers are a key workforce in running the Olympics and save organizers millions of dollars in salaries. Volunteers typically get a uniform, meals on the days they work, and have daily commuting costs covered. They pay their own lodging.

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A study done for the International Olympic Committee on volunteers at the 2000 Sydney Olympics said their value was at least $60 million for 40,000 volunteers.

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

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