The postponed Tokyo Olympics have kicked off.
Local organizers on Friday announced a series of 18 test events that are expected to start in March and end in May.
The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to open on July 23, 2021, after being postponed eight months ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The announcement at an online press conference came on the same day that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government reported a one-day record of 570 new coronavirus infections in the capital.
Although Japan has handled the pandemic better than most countries, cases have recently increased with around 2,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in a country of 125 million people.
Officials said at least four of the test events would involve foreign athletes, including swimming, gymnastics, diving and volleyball tests.
An athletics competition on May 9 at the new national stadium is listed as a test event. It is not clear whether foreign athletes will participate.
Hidemasa Nakamura, the game delivery manager, said none of the test events will allow overseas fans, although some events allow an unspecified number of fans from Japan.
“No, we will not have foreign spectators,” Nakamura said.
Several events will not even involve the athletes, testing “operations” only as a means of reducing expenses.
Japan recently hosted sporting events with fans. The final game of the Japanese professional baseball series this week drew an estimated 19,000 spectators at a 38,000-seat stadium in Fukuoka. And a few thousand fans were allowed to attend an international gymnastics event earlier this month in Tokyo.
“Regarding the number of spectators, we have to take into consideration the guidelines of the Japanese government,” said Yasuo Mori, who works with Nakamura on the delivery of the games.
The Tokyo Organizing Committee’s announcement is the latest in a campaign carried out in recent months to convince a global audience, sponsors and the Japanese public that the Olympic and Paralympic Games will take place despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Organizers are due to announce a “toolbox” of preliminary COVID-19 countermeasures next month, though they are likely vague and subject to many changes over the next year.
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, who was in Tokyo this month to talk about the Games, acknowledged that much of the planning depends on the availability of vaccines and rapid tests.
He said they weren’t a “quick fix” but would definitely help in addition to the social distancing, masks and near-quarantine conditions in the Athletes’ Village.
Bach said athletes would not be required to take a vaccine. He said young Olympic athletes were not a priority ahead of millions of healthcare workers, the elderly and other vulnerable populations.
Bach suggested the IOC would cover part of the cost of the vaccine, but gave no details as the cost continues to rise due to the postponement.
Tokyo says it is officially spending $ 12.6 billion to host the Olympics, although a government audit last year indicated it was likely double.
Games officials say a full complement of 11,000 Olympic and 4,400 Paralympic athletes will be allowed entry into Japan, along with tens of thousands of officials, judges, VIPs, sponsors, media and broadcasters.