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UN ropes in MNC chiefs for climate talks breakthrough

WARSAW: Sensing that government alone won’t be able to usher in climate change breakthroughs, the UN climate bodies on Tuesday launched a first-of-its kind-platform, where chief executives of major MNCs will join top government officials to share solutions, commitments and plans towards feasible action at the ongoing green talks which may end up as a robust deal in Paris in 2015.

India is also one of the participants at the inaugural Caring for Climate Business Forum, where it is being represented by Tata Cleantech Capital.

Though this attempt is seen as a step to involve private sector in co-creation of climate change solutions, profile of participating companies, including Dow Chemicals, will surely raise an eyebrow across the developing world, including India.

Dow currently owns Union Carbide, the company responsible for the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy. Although Dow did not have any ownership in Union Carbide until 16 years after the Bhopal tragedy, its presence at any such forum always creates flutters in India.

The Forum is a joint initiative of the United Nations Global Compact, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat and UN Environment Programme. All Caring For Climate signatories, including companies participating in the forum, are first and foremost required to be signatories of the UN Global Compact.

It is expected that the CEOs of the participating companies will, during their two-day meet, showcase to diplomats, policymakers and world leaders the contributions that business and investors are making towards climate action.

Seriousness of such effort may be known later as currently this move is being debated: whether it is merely an instrument of rich nations, led by the US, to emphasize on market-based mechanism to deal with climate change that has been responsible for several natural disasters across the globe.

“COP (Conference of Parties) 19 is a pivotal moment to both step up and showcase climate action,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of UNFCCC.

“Businesses must be heard, leveraged and invited to develop scalable climate change solutions to drive climate action. This can create the political space for more ambition in the UN climate process, which as part of a virtuous cycle can in turn catalyze more business action,” she said.

The UNFCCC claimed that the Forum will showcase some of the most innovative commitments and solutions for climate change from businesses, including plans by world’s largest furniture retailer Ikea to use 100% renewable energy by 2020, and a new global framework by Dow to mitigate the footprint of large-scale events and help produce the first carbon neutral Olympic Games.

Dow’s participation as one of the sponsors of 2012 London Olympics was resisted vehemently by India. New Delhi had even wanted that the company be dropped as sponsor of the London Games because of its links to the Bhopal tragedy.

The International Olympic Committee (


) had, however, rejected Indian demand, arguing that the Dow Chemicals neither owned nor operated the plant at the time of the Bhopal gas leak disaster.

The two-day Business Forum will conclude here with a report-back segment and a formal announcement of new commitments to action.

( Originally published on Nov 19, 2013 )

Tokyo Olympics: Many rules, no partying, no hanging around

TOKYO: Athletes at the Tokyo Olympics won’t have the luxury of hanging around once they’ve wrapped up their event.

No late-night parties in the Athletes Village. No nights – or early mornings – on the town.

Instead of getting to know their global neighbors, Olympic athletes will be encouraged to leave Japan a day or two after they’ve finished competing.

From the opening ceremony to life in the village on Tokyo Bay, the postponed 2020 Olympics will be like no other. There’ll be stringent rules and guidelines – and maybe vaccines and rapid testing – to pull off the games in the middle of a pandemic that has been blamed for more than 1 million deaths worldwide.

“Staying longer in the village increases the potential for problems,” John Coates, the IOC member in charge of overseeing Tokyo preparations, said Wednesday at a briefing for the Olympics and Paralympics.

Coates was asked if athletes would be discouraged from sightseeing, or looking around the city.

“Yes,” he replied simply, a short answer suggesting these Olympics will be all business with few frills.

Coates accompanied International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach to Tokyo this week as he met Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and shored up support with key Japanese sponsors.

It was Bach’s first visit to Japan since the Olympics were postponed in March.

Bach left Tokyo on Wednesday after two days of saying a vaccine was likely to be available and athletes would be strongly encouraged to take it.

Organizers and the IOC are growing confident they will have a vaccine and rapid testing. This will help, but dozens of other countermeasures will also be in place; social distancing, masks and bubbles in the venues and the Athletes Village.

Japan has controlled the virus reasonably well with about 1,900 deaths attributed to COVID-19. But almost 500 new cases were reported Wednesday in Tokyo, and more than 2,000 around Japan – both one-day records.

Cases are surging in the country just as optimism is also on the rise.

Christophe Dubi, the Olympic Games executive director, acknowledged much is still in the planning stages with many scenarios in play ahead of the scheduled opening on July 23, 2021.

“We don’t know what the situation will be next year, but some decisions will have to be made already in December,” Dubi said, speaking remotely.

Coates said the opening ceremony would be restricted to only athletes and a maximum of six team officials. In the past, dozens of officials – at times 50, Coates said – were allowed to march, filling in for athletes who may have skipped in order to compete the next day.

“We won’t do that this time,” Coates said. “That is just increasing the potential problem in the ceremony.”

Coates said all 206 countries would be represented in the opening ceremony, and a full contingent of 11,000 athletes will compete in the games. But the opening ceremony parade is likely to look smaller.

Officials are also wrestling with how to keep the opening ceremony from becoming a mass-spreading event, even if athletes are tested when they enter Japan and when they leave their home country.

“We don’t want to change the tradition of all athletes having the opportunity to parade in the opening ceremony,” Coates said, suggesting athletes might be tested as they entered the stadium, or in the tunnel as the come on to the track.

There are sure to be lots of rules. And athletes will be asked to follow them, as will thousands of officials, judges, media, VIPs and broadcasters who will need to enter Japan.

“I am absolutely sure that people will play by the rules and respect whatever guidelines are put in place,” said International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons, who spoke remotely from Brazil. “Every stakeholder involved in the Olympics and Paralympics understands the importance.”

Bach and Coates have both said they want to have fans from abroad, which has yet to be confirmed. Bach said he expected a “reasonable number” of fans in the venues. But how many, and from where, is unclear.

“We hope we can give the opportunity to as many people as possible, including foreign spectators,” Coates said. “We want the families of the athletes who come from overseas to have an opportunity to see their children. That’s what the Olympics is about, and I hope it’s possible.”

Tokyo Olympics organisers have cast-iron determination to stage Games in 2021: Sebastian Coe

Gurugram: World Athletics President Sebastian Coe on Sunday said the Tokyo Olympics organisers have a “cast-iron determination” to stage the postponed Games next year despite the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coe, who was recently made a member of the International Olympic Committee, visited Tokyo last month and met several top-ranking officials there, including the organising committee chief Yoshiro Mori and the sports and Olympics ministers in the Japanese government.

“The future is uncertain but let me give you a slightly more optimistic message. I recently visited Tokyo and met top officials there including ministers in the government. There I can see a cast-iron determination to stage the Games,” Coe said.

He was addressing the Annual General Body Meeting of the Athletics Federation of India virtually.

“The Games may be different, there will probably be adaptations, they will probably demand more from your teams that we have not seen in any Olympic Games before.

“But please reassure your athletes as they enter preparation phase that there is a strong determination (among officials in Japan) to stage the Olympic Games.”

The Tokyo Olympic Games were to be held from July 24 to August 9 this year but was postponed to next summer due to the pandemic.

Coe, who was the first president of any top international federation to visit the Olympic stadium, said he left Tokyo “comforted” by what he saw in the Japanese capital.

The 64-year-old double Olympic gold medallist in 1500m claimed that no other sport at the international level has done so much for the athletes and been so active with several competitions being staged despite the global pandemic.

“Our sport has faced challenges during these traumatic months. We have taken many brave decisions, we have kept the athletes at the centre of all our efforts, held competitions, worked for sponsorships, for media, television and social media related activities.

“No other sport at the global level has done so much as we had done to maintain our presence during these difficult times which we have never faced during our career as athletes or as administrator.”

He cited as example the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships last month in Poland where the women’s world record was broken by Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir as one of the high points of this year.

“Besides the world record in women’s event, it was the only world championships where 10 men recorded under 1 hour timings.

“There was also 10,000m world record (by Joshua Cheptegei), the continental tour events, the innovative garden challenges via iphones, the Inspiration Games, all these have kept athletics at the forefront of global sport.

“We are also learning new things and we may have to take these to next year but I am hoping that it (the situation) is not so bad (next year).”

Coe also praised AFI for organising many activities online for the benefit of the athletes and officials in India, in the South Asian region and in Asia.

“I have lost count of how many times I have joined you online. The AFI is doing a fantastic job which is keeping the athletes in the front and centre. Your activities are also benefiting others in the South Asian region and beyond.”

IOC, Tokyo Olympics to unveil rule book for beating pandemic

TOKYO: Remember the word: Playbook.

This is the rule book that the IOC and Tokyo organizers are set to roll out next week to explain how 15,400 Olympic and Paralympic athletes and tens of thousands of others will try to safely enter Japan when the Olympics open in just under six months.

Organizers and the International Olympic Committee are finally going public with their planning, hoping to push back against reports the Olympics will be canceled with Tokyo and much of Japan still under a state of emergency with COVID-19 cases rising.

The rollout at Olympic headquarters in Switzerland is planned for Feb. 4, with Tokyo likely to present on Feb. 5.

“We created four different scenarios, one that had travel restrictions, clusters – to one where the pandemic was nearly gone,” Lucia Montanarella, head of IOC media operations, explained Tuesday for a panel discussion held by the International Sports Press Association.

“The present scenario is very much like one of those that we’d created, with the pandemic still among us, and some countries being able to contain it, some not.”

The playbook will be about creating safe bubbles in Tokyo, and will be updated with changing protocols as the July 23 opening gets closer. The Paralympics are schedule to open on Aug. 24.

Athletes and those traveling to Japan – coaches, judges, media, broadcasters, VIPS – are likely to face some self-quarantine period before they leave home. This will be followed by tests at the airport, tests arriving in Japan, and frequent testing for those staying in the Athletes Village alongside Tokyo Bay.

Montanarella said “we know that we are facing a huge challenge, this is to create a bubble for all athletes. One thing is to create a bubble for 200 athletes in just one sport, and a very different thing is to create a bubble for thousands of athletes of different sports.”

Craig Spence, a spokesman for the International Paralympic Committee, said organizers must get the support of the Japanese public amid polls that show 80% of those surveyed think the Olympics should be canceled or postponed.

“If you are an athlete or a stakeholder, you will not be able to get on a plane until you provide a negative test,” Spence told Associated Press. “When you see the number of tests we are going to do (on site), that should reassure people.”

IOC President Thomas Bach, who has said vaccines are not “obligatory,” is still pushing for all participants to be vaccinated. The World Health Organization said earlier this week that Olympic athletes should not be a priority ahead of health care workers, the elderly and the vulnerable.

The IOC has had its high-profile members speaking publicly.

IOC member Sebastian Coe was on Japanese television on Wednesday, and IOC member Dick Pound suggested last week the “most realistic way of going ahead” was prioritizing athletes. He received strong opposition.

The IOC receives almost 75% of its income from selling broadcast rights. Tokyo could be worth $2 billion to $3 billion in rights income, making Japan’s games a financial imperative – even if it becomes a primarily television-only event.

“It is a difficult project with a number of demands,” IOC executive board member Gerardo Werthein told the Argentine news site Infobae. “Circumstances force us to do these things, and it is a great challenge.”

Japan has more than 5,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19, but its health care system is under stress with deaths and new cases rising. A vaccine rollout is expected next month, but later in spring for much of the general public.

The president of the Japan Medical Association sounded a warning last week when asked about the Olympics and possible patients from abroad.

“Many people will come from abroad, and it’s a huge number, even with just the athletes,” Dr. Toshio Nakagawa said. “In this situation, if coronavirus patients appear among them as a collapse of the medical system is happening and is spreading, it will not be possible to accept them. Unless a miracle happens, such as the vaccine rollout suddenly succeeding, or a cure is suddenly found, we are not able to accept more patients.”

Tokyo ‘unwavering’ on Olympics but fans not guaranteed: CEO

Tokyo: Olympics organisers are “unwavering” on holding the coronavirus-delayed Games this year but can’t rule out staging it without spectators, Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto told AFP.

In an interview ahead of the Games’ six-month countdown, Muto conceded people are “anxious” as virus cases soar worldwide, including in Japan where Tokyo is under a state of emergency.

But he insisted the Olympics were still possible, even without requiring athletes and fans to be vaccinated, and that public opinion will swing behind the Games once the virus situation improves.

“We are not discussing cancellation,” he said on Tuesday.

“Holding the Games is our unwavering policy, and at this point in time we’re not discussing anything other than that.”

The spectre of cancellation has returned to haunt the Games 10 months after the pandemic forced the first peacetime postponement in Olympic history.

The deputy chairman of the 2012 London Olympics told the BBC on Tuesday that he believes the Tokyo Games are “unlikely” to go ahead, while one prominent former Olympian has called it “ludicrous” to stage the event.

Polling in Japan this month showed around 80 percent of respondents oppose holding the Games this year, even after organisers unveiled a raft of anti-virus measures.

Much remains uncertain, including whether foreign fans will be able to attend, or if spectators will be allowed at all.

Japan’s borders are currently all but closed to foreign visitors, and attendance at domestic events is limited to 5,000 spectators or 50 percent capacity, whichever is less.

– ‘No predictions’ on fans – Muto said it was “not desirable” to hold the Games without fans, but not out of the question.

In November, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, said he was “very, very confident” spectators would be allowed.

“I don’t know how possible that is, but basically, having no fans is not desirable,” Muto said, adding that a decision will be made in the coming months.

“What conclusions are reached in spring is something we’ll find out later. I can’t make any predictions.”

Muto acknowledged that anti-virus measures, which include a ban on fans cheering, will make the Tokyo Games unlike any past Olympics.

But he added: “The emotion that the spectators feel when they watch the action won’t change… as long as there is drama, it can have an emotional impact.”

He said the “biggest challenge” was implementing the 53-page anti-coronavirus rulebook, which mandates regular testing for athletes, limits their movement and shortens stays at the Olympic Village.

“If we don’t plan this thoroughly, we can’t hold a safe and secure Olympics,” he said.

While Japan has seen a comparatively small coronavirus outbreak, with just over 4,500 deaths so far, a recent surge in cases has renewed concern about the Games.

A Kyodo news agency poll found 45 percent of Japanese want the Games to be delayed again and 35 percent favour outright cancellation.

“The situation with coronavirus in Japan and around the world is very severe, so of course people are feeling anxious,” Muto said.

But he said the rollout of vaccinations, and slowing infections, would gradually change public sentiment.

Japan is not expected to begin vaccinations before late February, focusing first on health workers and the elderly. Reports say other people will receive jabs from May, just two months before the Games start on July 23.

Muto reiterated that organisers and Olympic officials “haven’t discussed making the vaccine a condition” for athletes or fans.

He said the virus was unlikely to be eliminated in the near future, but that it only reinforced the importance of the Games.

“It’s precisely because we’re in this situation that we need to remember the value of the Olympics — that humankind can coexist peacefully through sport,” he said,

“If we can hold a big event like the Tokyo Olympics alongside the coronavirus, the Tokyo model will become one of our legacies.”

80% say Tokyo Olympics should be called off or won’t happen

TOKYO: More than 80% of people in Japan who were surveyed in two polls in the last few days say the Tokyo Olympics should be canceled or postponed, or say they believe the Olympics will not take place.

The polls were conducted by the Japanese news agency Kyodo and TBS — the Tokyo Broadcasting System.

The results are bad news for Tokyo organizers and the International Olympic Committee as they continue to say the postponed Olympics will open on July 23.

Tokyo is battling a surge of COVID-19 cases that prompted the national government last week to call a state of emergency. In declaring the emergency, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he was confident the Olympics would be held.

Japan has controlled the virus relatively well but the surge has heightened skepticism about the need for the Olympics and the danger of potentially bringing 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes into the country.

The Olympics could also attract tens of thousands of coaches, judges, officials, VIPs, sponsors, media and broadcasters. It is not clear if fans from abroad will be allowed, or if local fans will attend events.

Japan has attributed about 3,800 deaths to COVID-19 in a country of 126 million. The TBS poll asked if the Olympics can be held. In the telephone survey with 1,261 responding, 81% replied “no” with only 13% answering “yes.” The “no” responses increased 18 percentage points from a similar survey in December.

In Kyodo’s poll, 80.1% of respondents in a telephone survey said the Olympics should be canceled or rescheduled. The same question in December found 63% calling for cancellation or postponement.

Kyodo said the survey covered 715 randomly selected households with eligible voters. Neither poll listed a margin of error.

Japan is officially spending $15.4 billion to hold the Olympics, although several government audits show the number is about $25 billion. All but $6.7 billion is public money.

The Switzerland-based IOC earns 91% of its income from selling broadcast rights and sponsorships.

The American network NBC agreed in 2011 to a $4.38 billion contract with the IOC to broadcast four Olympics through the Tokyo. In 2014 it agreed to pay an added $7.75 billion for six more games — Winter and Summer — through 2032.

Amid Covid gloom, could it be ‘India Shining’ in Tokyo? All indications say yes

There is palpable tension, a sense of dread actually, but the COVID-hit Olympic Games starting Friday or the ‘Games of Hope’ as the


desperately wants the world to believe, could prove to be a watershed for the biggest ever Indian contingent with shooters, boxers and wrestlers expected to lead an unparalleled medal rush.

The Games were postponed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic which hasn’t slowed down as much as the world would have wanted despite the advent of multiple vaccines.

The fear of the virus is omnipresent at one of the globe’s most densely populated cities, playing host to thousands of athletes, their support staff and officials while logging over 1,000 daily COVID-19 cases.

Only a tiny bunch of them are Games-related but they have been enough to ensure that fear remains a constant in the event.

Spectators were barred weeks back, taking away the very idea of festivities that fuel the Olympic spirit.

The International Olympic Committee is trying its best to focus on hope though and wants everyone else to do the same — just try and look at the brighter side.

“It is a recipe…for overcoming a crisis and addressing a crisis, and after the Games, that message of hope will translate into a message of confidence,” said IOC President Thomas Bach on Wednesday night.

Their eager journey of hope begins with the opening ceremony on Friday, and Bach is confident that it will be a “moment of joy and relief, joy in particular” when action begins to unfold.

“…the road to this Opening Ceremony was not the easiest one. There is a saying that if you feel this kind of relief, there are stones falling from your heart, so if you hear some stones falling then maybe they are coming from my heart,” he said.

His musings will have resonance in one country at least.

India, a nation of over 1.3 billion, has just 28 Olympic medals to its credit since making a debut back in 1900. That tally features just one inpidual gold that Abhinav Bindra picked up in 2008.

This country is definitely more optimistic than before of what its 120 athletes — 68 men and 52 women — in Tokyo would achieve.

The expectations are of a first ever double digit figure in the medals tally, surpassing the best haul of six achieved in the 2012 London Olympics, none of them gold.

The foremost among the contenders are 15 shooters. Mostly young, with significant international success to their credit in the past two years and buzzing with energy.

A 19-year-old Manu Bhaker, a 20-year-old Elavenil Valarivan, an 18-year-old Divyansh Singh Panwar, and a 20-year-old Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar are just some names from whom medal hopes are sky high.

They seem ready for the pressure and come July 24, there could well be a gold rush that India has never seen in the Games.

The jumbo shooting contingent is on one side.

On the other is a lone warrior — Mirabai Chanu (49kg) in weightlifting. The 26-year-old has come a long way since failing to record a single legitimate lift in the Rio Olympics five years ago.

Since then, she has been a world champion (2017) and a Commonwealth Games champion (2018) and also holds the world record in clean and jerk. If all goes well, hers could be among the first medals that India would celebrate this weekend.

Another bunch to watch out for is the archery team, led by seasoned world number one Deepika Kumari.

Deepika would be eager to exorcise the ghosts of 2012 London Olympics where too, she entered as the world number one only to misfire and go home empty-handed.

With husband Atanu Das, a mixed team archery medal is being seen as a real possibility for India.

The boxers are another set of big contenders with world number one Amit Panghal (52kg), six-time world champion M C Mary Kom (51kg), former Asian Games champion Vikas Krishan (69kg) being the strongest medal hopes in the record group of nine that has qualified.

There are eight wrestlers in the fray and it would be viewed as nothing short of a debacle, dare say a travesty, if the star duo of Bajrang Punia (65kg) and Vinesh Phogat (53kg) don’t end up on the podium after dominating every tournament they have been at in the past three years.

Not to mention dark horses like Deepak Punia (86kg), who was a world championships silver-medallist in 2019 and could well be the big star to emerge from the Games.

The two hockey teams are also going in with loads of optimism after decent outings in international tours of the past one year.

The Manpreet Singh-led men’s team and the Rani Rampal-led women’s side are in with a genuine chance if they hold their nerves on the big stage.

The last of India’s eight hockey gold medals came back in 1980 and for the first time in many years, there is actual hope that the drought could finally end for a new era to begin in the sport.

There is some excitement surrounding the paddlers too with the mixed team of veteran A Sharath Kamal and the spunky Manika Batra being given a shot at a medal together.

In athletics, javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra’s spear could end the agony of near misses that the likes of P T Usha and the late Milkha Singh endured.

World champion P V Sindhu is also looking good for a second Olympic medal of her career, an achievement that would cement her place among the all-time greats of Indian sports.

Veteran Sania Mirza spearheads the tennis challenge in her fourth Olympic appearance. She will be seen in the women’s doubles event alongside debutant Ankita Raina.

In addition and perhaps a sign of India’s growth as a sporting nation, the country would have representation in fencing (C A Bhavani Devi) and equestrian (Fouaad Mirza) for the very first time.

It is also for the first time that two swimmers (three in all) — Sajan Prakash and Srihari Nataraj — made the Olympic cut with ‘A’ qualification marks.

So, India can certainly hope that the gloom of the pandemic would be lifted by the brightness of its athletes’ performances.

Olympics: Virus outbreaks at Olympic hotels sow frustration, stoke infection fears

Coronavirus outbreaks involving Olympic teams in Japan have turned small-town hotels into facilities on the frontline of the pandemic battle, charged with implementing complex health measures to protect elite athletes and a fearful public.

Infections have hit at least seven teams arriving in Japan barely a week out from the July 23 opening ceremony and after host city Tokyo reported its highest daily tally of new COVID-19 infections since late January.

Health experts and hotel staff say the outbreaks underscore the risks of holding the world’s largest sports event during the middle of a global pandemic in a largely unvaccinated country.

In one example, 49 members of Brazil’s judo team are being kept in isolation after eight COVID-19 cases were discovered among the staff at a hotel where they are staying in Hamamatsu, southwest of Tokyo.

None of the judokas have tested positive but frustration over their isolation is mounting as health officials work to contain the outbreak.

“People from the city’s public health centre are tracking down close contacts here,” a staff member at the Hamanako hotel who did not want to be identified told Reuters. “There are dozens of regular guests as well but we’re getting cancellations now.”

The staff member said athletes are using designated lifts and those who work with them are prioritised for COVID-19 testing. Meals are held in the dining area in separate spaces and the athletes are staying on separate floors.

City official Yoshinobu Sawada said teams were required to sign formal agreements to follow coronavirus protocols on eating, movement and transportation restrictions. The infected hotel staff have been moved to quarantine centres.

Other outbreaks among athletes include members of Olympic delegations from Uganda, Serbia, Israel and several other nations either testing positive or isolating in their hotels after being designated as close contacts.

The organising committee did not immediately respond to Reuters’ questions seeking comment.

Games organisers tell hotels to report people with a high temperature during Olympic team check-ins and say organisers and public health centres will handle outbreaks or suspected cases, according to documents the organisers sent to hotels.

Hotels need to provide room service or food delivery to athletes in isolation, and run different hours or separate spaces for meals between Olympic guests and regular guests.

The documents say organisers will not cover costs for hotels to equip rooms with acrylic piders or provide separate dining spaces for the athletes.

Tokyo 2020 playbooks for athletes and sports federations call for attendees to physically distance themselves from others, to wear masks, and to get tested daily.

Those playbooks are working and being enforced, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has said, and there was “zero” risk of Games participants infecting residents..

Tokyo entered its fourth state of emergency earlier this week amid a rebound in cases that pushed Games organisers to ban spectators from nearly all venues. More than 1,300 new cases were reported on Thursday, the most in six months.

Most people in Japan think the Games should not go ahead and only 18% are fully vaccinated.

Six hotel officials spoken to by Reuters were mostly worried about separating athletes from regular guests as well as the safety of their staff.

Azusa Takeuchi from the Lake Biwa Otsu Prince Hotel, which is hosting 53 members of New Zealand’s rowing team, said staff were taking COVID-19 tests every four days, wearing masks and providing contact-free services.

Similar measures were in place at the Ebina Vista Hotel on the outskirts of Tokyo, according to an Olympic official staying there, who said he was housed on the seventh floor but not permitted to use a lift.

“There are guards at each floor 24/7 preventing us from using them. Instead we are allowed to go from hotel restaurant to our rooms and back using only external evacuation stairs,” said the official, who did not want to be identified.

Other measures, confirmed by the hotel, include breakfast for the athletes served before 6:30 a.m. at the restaurant or through meal boxes delivered to hotel rooms.

Koichi Tsuchiya, the hotel manager, said he worried about his staff.

“I’m scared someone from the cleaning staff would get infected. People entering guest rooms are scared,” said Tsuchiya, adding that some staff were not vaccinated. “This is making us nervous.”

Tsuchiya also worried about his visitors.

“Travel agents brief the athletes before arrival: you can’t do this, this is not allowed, that is banned. I’m sure the athletes are extremely stressed,” he said.

“As staff, we’re doing our best to help them relax. But this is the situation we’re in, so the infection countermeasures are the priority.”

27 new Games-related COVID-19 cases reported, highest so far

The Tokyo Games organisers on Friday announced 27 new COVID-19 cases linked with the Olympics, including three athletes, the highest daily count so far. The three athletes include US pole vaulter Sam Kendricks, a two-time world champion, who on Thursday pulled out of the Games after testing positive for the virus.

The 27 cases, bringing the cumulative Games-related total to 220, comprise 18 residents of Japan and nine from overseas. Of the daily total, two athletes and a Games-related official were staying in the Olympic village.

The highest daily figure in Games-related cases came a day after Tokyo reported 3,865 new infections, hitting a record for the third straight day, and the nationwide single-day count topped 10,000 for the first time.

Besides the three athletes, those who tested positive for COVID-19 were 15 contractors, four Games-related officials, four volunteers and one member of the media, according to the organising committee.

The total number of cases in the Games village currently stands at 26.

As of Wednesday, 39,853 people from overseas had arrived in Japan to take part in the Games, it said.

On Thursday, the organisers, while announcing 24 new COVID-19 cases, including three athletes, had insisted that the showpiece is not behind the record surge in the host city.

Reacting promptly, the International Olympic Committee‘s (


) spokesperson Mark Adams said the Games are not responsible for the surge in coronavirus infections in Tokyo, according to public broadcaster NHK.

Authorities are alarmed by the Japanese capital setting an all-time high and closing in on 4000 cases, only a day after crossing the 3000 mark for the first time. The host city is in a state of emergency with COVID-19 infections at a record high.

Japan has kept its cases and deaths lower than many other countries, but its seven-day average is increasing, according to the country’s health ministry.

IOC spokesman Adams on Thursday said there was nothing to suggest a link between the Games and the rising figures.

“As far as I’m aware there’s not a single case of an infection spreading to the Tokyo population from the athletes or Olympic movement,” he had told reporters here.

“We have the most tested community probably anywhere… in the world, on top of that you have some of the toughest lockdown restrictions in the athlete’s village,” he added.

Adams said only two people associated with the Games are in hospital, and half of all those needing care are being looked after by their own medical teams.

“Of 310,000 screening tests, the rate of positivity is 0.02 percent,” Adams had said.

Tennis star Osaka lights Tokyo Olympics cauldron as Games open

Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic cauldron as the Tokyo Games opened on Friday after a year’s delay due to the pandemic and with the threat of coronavirus hanging over the competition.

Osaka lifted the torch to the gleaming cauldron, which had unfurled at the top of a ramp representing Mount Fuji, in the highlight of a ceremony that was stripped back over virus fears.

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito officially opened the Games in an eerily empty Olympic Stadium, after Covid-19 forced organisers to ban spectators at all but a handful of venues.

“I declare open the Games of Tokyo,” said the monarch, wearing a white surgical mask, in the 68,000-capacity stadium.

Osaka, whose identity had been kept secret ahead of the ceremony, was handed the torch by a group of children from the region around Fukushima which was devastated by a tsunami and a nuclear disaster in 2011.

She tweeted that lighting the cauldron was “undoubtedly the greatest athletic achievement and honor I will ever have in my life”.

The lighting of the futuristic cauldron was an uplifting moment in a low-key ceremony that unfolded in front of fewer than 1,000 VIPs and several thousand athletes.

In another high point, nearly 2,000 synchronised drones formed a revolving globe over the stadium, to a cover version of John Lennon’s “Imagine”.

A reduced parade of about 5,700 athletes, far lower than the usual numbers, filed into the stadium, not all of them socially distanced but all wearing masks.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach acknowledged the Games would be “very different from what all of us had imagined”.

But “today is a moment of hope”, he said in an address.

The 16-day event, with 339 gold medals across 33 sports, have a surreal air after the pandemic compelled organisers to make this the first Games with virtually no spectators.

Athletes are tested daily but they are performing on the biggest stage knowing that a positive test could wreck their Olympic dreams.

Fears that the global gathering of 11,000 athletes could become a super-spreader event have made the Games deeply unpopular in Japan, where polls have shown opposition for months.

But hundreds of people gathered outside the stadium cheered and applauded as the fireworks exploded overhead.

Mako Fukuhara arrived six hours before the ceremony to grab a spot.

“Until now it didn’t feel like the Olympics, but now we are by the stadium, it feels like the Olympics,” she told AFP.

Japan has spent nearly $15 billion on the Games, including $2.6 billion in extra costs after they became the first to be postponed in modern Olympic history in March 2020.

Tokyo is also battling a surge in virus cases, and is under emergency measures though they fall short of a strict lockdown.

Organisers will hope public opinion turns when the full sporting programme starts on Saturday, with swimming, gymnastics, road cycling and tennis among the top attractions.

Attention will focus on a new generation of Olympic stars who are looking to shine after a decade dominated by the likes of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps.

US swimmer Caeleb Dressel could target seven gold medals and 400 metre hurdlers Karsten Warholm of Norway and the USA’s Sydney McLaughlin are among those hoping to emerge as household names.

In gymnastics, Simone Biles will attempt to crown her dazzling career by equalling Larisa Latynina’s record of nine Olympic gold medals.

Surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing and karate are all making their Olympic debut, while New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will become the Games’ first transgender athlete.

The pandemic has not been the only hiccup, with scandals ranging from corruption during the bidding process to plagiarism allegations over the design of the Tokyo 2020 logo.

The controversies kept coming right up to the eve of the Games, with the opening ceremony’s director sacked on Thursday for making a joke referencing the Holocaust in a video from 1998.

Insiders estimate the IOC would have been on the hook for around $1.5 billion in lost broadcasting revenues if the Games had been cancelled.