Australia’s national women’s softball team on Tuesday became the first international competitors to arrive in Japan ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, a show of confidence in a beleaguered event that is struggling against a coronavirus outbreak and growing public opposition.
The 23 players and 10 staff members, all of whom have been vaccinated against Covid-19, landed at Narita International Airport outside Tokyo and were traveling to the city of Ota, where they will train before moving into the Olympic Village on July 17.
The team, known as the Aussie Spirit, must strictly limit its movements as Japan tries to contain a prolonged fourth wave of the coronavirus. On Friday, the Japanese government extended a state of emergency in Tokyo and eight other prefectures until June 20. In other prefectures — including Gunma, where the Australian players will train — emergency measures curtailing businesses’ operating hours and capacity at certain venues are set to expire on June 13.
New daily infections have declined more than 40 percent in the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database, but Japan is still recording more than 3,500 cases per day, the most since January.
The Australian team will be confined to one level of a hotel, where the players will eat meals, work out and have meetings. They will be able to leave the hotel only to train.
“They’ll be extremely limited in what they’ll be able to do every day, and that’s going to take, for them, another sacrifice, but it’s a sacrifice they’re up for,” Ian Chesterman, vice president of the Australian Olympic Committee, said on Monday.
The players have not competed against any international teams since February 2020, as Australia’s borders have been almost completely closed since the start of the pandemic. Their early arrival in Japan will allow them to train against professional Japanese softball clubs and the Japan national team. Of the 23 Australian players who traveled to Japan, a team of 15 will be selected to compete in the Games, which are scheduled to begin on July 23.