OTA, Gunma Pref.: The Australia women’s softball team competing in the Tokyo Olympics this summer arrived in Japan on Tuesday, becoming the first group of foreign athletes to visit the country since the games were postponed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The group, comprising 20 athletes and nine staff members, arrived at their training camp in Ota, Gunma Prefecture, eastern Japan. They will be joined later by four more people.
The squad, nick-named the Aussie Spirit, arrived at its camp after entering the country at Narita International Airport in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo. The members, wearing masks, smiled and waved to some 50 media personnel and local residents at the camp.
They will stay inside their hotel until Friday and start practice at a baseball field in Ota the following day, facing off against corporate and university teams for practice matches.
All members were vaccinated prior to departure, and tested negative in antigen tests at Narita. They will undergo polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests every day.
Head coach Robert Harrow said in a statement released through Ota that “we will be focused purely on our training during our time in camp” in line with rules imposed under the coronavirus crisis. “We look forward to putting on a good show for the Japanese people as thanks for their generosity in hosting us,” he also said.
A staff member at Ota Now Resort Hotel, which will be home to the Aussie Spirit during the camp, said that the hotel hopes to thoroughly accommodate the athletes during their stay of about one and a half months before the team heads for the Olympic athlete’s village in mid-July.
In order to prevent novel coronavirus infections, one of the entrances and the eighth and ninth floors of the hotel’s main building will be used exclusively by the squad. Hotel staff will undergo daily PCR tests as well.
The hotel did not hold a welcome ceremony for the athletes, in order to prevent possible infections.
A local man in his 60s who works nearby cheered the Aussie Spirit, but worried that the “athletes may feel uncomfortable as they will not be able to go shopping freely” under coronavirus rules.
A 59-year-old local man working the restaurant business hoped that the arrival of the athletes would make city residents more aware of coronavirus prevention measures. He said that “the final say (on whether the Olympic Games will be held) is up to the central government.”
On July 21, two days before the official opening of the Olympics, the Aussie Spirit will face Japan in Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan, in the first match of the Tokyo Games.
At a press conference in Tokyo on Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato welcomed the team, saying that their visit would make people feel the games are approaching.