First foreign Olympic team heads to Tokyo

With less than eight weeks to go to the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, the host city remains under a coronavirus state of emergency and is battling negative publicity at home and abroad. But organizers have just gotten some good news. The first group of foreign athletes is on its way.

Australia's softball team seems excited to get back to the field more than a year after their last match.

Still, the head of the country's Olympic delegation says the athletes know this experience will be far from normal.

Australian Olympic team Chef de Mission Ian Chesterman said, "We know that there's enormous matter of effort from the Japanese government all the way down through every level of government to make sure that the environment we move into is appropriate to run the games.

The last time softball was an Olympic sport, Australia lost a nail-biter to eventual champions Japan. That was 13 years ago in Beijing.

In a few weeks they'll get another shot, and to prepare for it they'll be training in the city of Ota in Gunma Prefecture.

Twent-three players and a handful of staff make up the first foreign Olympic contingent to land in Japan.

They're all fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, but they'll have to take PCR tests every day of their stay in Japan.

Three floors of the hotel they'll be staying have been roped off exclusively for the Australian team to ensure minimal contact with other guests.

The athletes will have their own common-use space for dining and training and will be asked to avoid visiting any other floors. They'll have to enter and leave via the hotel's back door.

In fact, they'll be asked to refrain from leaving the hotel at all, except to visit the ballpark for practice. City officials will buy daily necessities for them.

Ota officials originally wanted to hold a welcome ceremony, but that won't happen now. Instead, they may get the chance to talk with local children via the Internet.

The mayor of the city says half the point of hosting athletes is the opportunity to interact with them, but he still believes it will be a meaningful experience.

Ota Mayor Shimizu Masayoshi said, "I want to embrace and continue the relationship between Australia and Ota City. If we can host the team without problems, it can be proof that other municipalities can do the same."

Ota is one of 528 municipalities that originally signed up to host Olympic delegations. As of two weeks ago, 54 of them had either canceled or been told the teams were no longer coming. The others will be keeping a close eye on what happens in Gunma.