The Tokyo Olympics are struggling to keep their army of volunteers after it emerged that organizers were hiring paid staff to do similar work, in the last hurdle for the long-delayed games in Japan.
Around 10,000 volunteers have resigned in recent weeks, organizers say, out of around 110,000 who are the welcoming face of Tokyo 2020 – work as guides, drivers, event staff, medical first responders and interpreters.
But with the absence of foreign spectators to welcome and a Covid-19 state of emergency in Tokyo, enthusiasm among volunteers is at an all-time low, highlighting the difficulties of hosting the world’s largest sporting event during a pandemic.
Japanese government and International Olympic Committee insist games start as scheduled on July 23, despite warnings to celebrate fans could spread the coronavirus, and a delayed vaccination campaign that only delivered a first dose to about 13% of the population.
The last blow to volunteer morale came when advertisements appeared on the Internet offering a salary of 1,700 ($ 15.50) per hour to work as front desk staff at a “large scale international sporting event” in July and August.
Although Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa said last month that volunteers will have different tasks than paid staff, the tasks announced include guiding spectators and taking their temperatures.
An announcement for a “water sports site” said it would be like working at a resort, with food and accommodation provided. Two agencies called by the Financial Times confirmed the jobs were for the Olympics.
Takamichi Ueno, a freelance photographer from Tochigi Prefecture, said he always looks forward to his role in the road cycling race and hopes to meet the riders. But he said he was annoyed to learn that the games were hiring staff to work alongside volunteers, as he had to go to Fuji International Speedway – where the road race ends – and find accommodation at his own expense. . “I don’t agree with that,” he said.
Retiree Katsuji Yoshioka said he resigned his volunteer position in April after being asked to sign up for nine-hour shifts as a driver. “They called it a proponent of driving,” he said. “They were looking for shifts like 2pm to 11pm, which meant it was difficult to get the last train. “
Yoshioka said he believes the work schedule is too strenuous for an inexperienced volunteer and that it would be easy to catch Covid as a driver. He felt justified when he learned that Tokyo 2020 was hiring paid staff. “It would be a joke if I had done this job alongside people who were paid for it,” he said.
In a bid to make the games safer and overthrow public opinion, Japan is debating whether to vaccinate all volunteers before the Olympics, putting them ahead of the others in the queue. Currently, Japan only vaccinates those over 65, but it will start letting large companies vaccinate their staff from June 21.
“We have agreed to move in that direction,” Marukawa said in response to a parliamentary question this week. “But there are a number of practical issues.”