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Tokyo 2020 Olympics

An Olympics without fans? Tokyo volunteers suddenly have no roles

From teens to octogenarians, tens of thousands were ready to hit the pavement

A volunteer prepares for the Tokyo Olympic Games, which now will be held mostly without fans. (Photo by Tetsuya Kitayama)

TOKYO -- "We regret to inform you that your activities will all be canceled," the city of Yokohama said in a statement on Friday, notifying its roughly 2,000 registered Olympic volunteers that they are no longer needed.

Japan's decision to bar Olympics spectators in Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures will force sports venues to rethink their plans, with the ripple effect reaching volunteers, medical personnel and security guards.

Olympic events are planned at 42 venues across Japan, but 80% of them will be held in Tokyo and its three neighbors -- Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures, areas subject to the spectator ban.

Consequently, the main venues -- such as the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo and the Yokohama Stadium where the baseball championship game is planned -- will all hold events without fans.

With just two weeks until the opening ceremony on July 23, the organizing committee will scramble to reassign personnel for an unprecedented Olympics during a pandemic.

The volunteers, from teens to octogenarians, had already received uniforms and were planning to guide spectators to venues within the city. 

Yokohama had already procured masks and disinfectants for the volunteers and rented a room for them to rest. 

"We will talk with contractors and quickly settle our payments," said a city representative. 

Tokyo had planned to have roughly 30,000 volunteers help visitors at airports and stations. Although that will no longer be necessary, the capital hopes to find different roles for them. 

"Because we will still have the Paralympics, we will try to come up with an opportunity for them," said a Tokyo Metropolitan Government official handling Olympic volunteers. 

The Tokyo Olympics Organizing Committee, which has its own army of roughly 70,000 volunteers, also plans to retain them. The roughly 20,000 volunteers assigned to guide spectators will be given different roles.

The repercussions will reach transit systems in greater Tokyo. The Metropolitan Government and the organizing committee announced the cancellation of train schedules designed to accommodate spectators, such as more frequent and late-night trains. 

The committee had planned to set up temporary medical clinics, staffed with doctors, nurses and medical volunteers. The plan was to have one site per 10,000 spectators, to respond to medical emergencies, such as treating heatstroke patients. 

The committee has secured roughly 7,000 medical personnel, but that number will be reduced. 

Private companies have been contracted to conduct security screenings at the venues. The committee had anticipated to have up to roughly 18,000 security personnel per day. But without spectators, there will be fewer screenings. 

Ticket revenues, once estimated at 90 billion yen ($818 million), will diminish. Under the contract, Tokyo is responsible to make up the shortfall, if the organizing committee runs out of funds. 

At a news conference on Friday, Tokyo Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa did not elaborate on who will make up for the revenue decline. But Tokyo and the central government are expected to hold negotiations. 

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