The Tokyo Olympics is struggling to retain its volunteer army after it emerges that organizers were hiring paid staff to do similar work, in the latest hurdle for long-delayed games in Japan.
According to organizers, about 10,000 volunteers have stopped working in recent weeks, of which about 110,000 are the welcome sight of Tokyo 2020 – working as a guide, hosts, event staff, first responders and interpreters.
But without foreign spectators to welcome and a Covid-19 state of emergency in Tokyo, enthusiasm among volunteers has waned, highlighting the difficulties of staging the world’s largest sporting event during a pandemic.
The Japanese government and the International Olympic Committee insist that the games begin as scheduled on July 23, despite warnings from fans. could spread coronavirus, and a delayed vaccination campaign that gave a first dose to only about 13 percent of the population.
The last blow to voluntary morale came when advertising on the internet offering salaries of 1.7 1,700 ($ 15.50) per hour to work as a staff in front of a “large-scale international sports event” in July and August.
Although Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa said last month that volunteers would have different duties with paid staff, the tasks announced include guiding spectators and taking their temperature.
An advertisement for a “maritime sports venue” he said it would be like working in a vacation spot, with food and accommodation provided. Two agencies quoted by the Financial Times have confirmed that work was underway with the Olympics.
Takamichi Ueno, a freelance photographer from Tochigi prefecture, said he is still waiting for his role for the road bike race and hopes to meet the riders. But he said he was annoyed when he heard that the games were hiring staff to work alongside volunteers, since he had to travel to Fuji International Speedway – where the road race ends – and find accommodation at the so expenses. “I don’t agree with him,” he said.
Katsuji Yoshioka, a retiree, said he resigned as a volunteer in April after being asked to stop for nine-hour shifts as a driver. “They called him a supporter of the guide,” he said. “They were looking for shifts like 2pm to 11pm, which would mean it was hard to get the last train.”
Yoshioka said he thought the work schedule was too tiring for an inexperienced volunteer and that it would be easy to catch Covid as a driver. He felt relieved when he heard that Tokyo 2020 hired paid staff. “It would be a joke if I did this work alongside people who were paid for it,” he said.
In an effort to make games safer and turn public sentiment around, Japan is debating whether to vaccinate all volunteers before the Olympics, moving them ahead of others in a row. Today, Japan vaccinates only those over 65, but will begin letting large companies vaccinate their staff by June 21st.
“We have agreed to go in this direction,” Marukawa said in response to a parliamentary request this week. “But there are a number of practical issues.”