Sugimatsu Yuka has been preparing for three years to work as a volunteer at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. She even studied Chinese so she would be better able to assist spectators from overseas. So it was a disappointment when Olympic organizers announced back in March that there would be no foreign spectators. Now, she says, the news that domestic spectators have also been banned is "heartbreaking."
Sugimatsu is one of around 40,000 so-called "city cast" volunteers who were hoping to help get people to the venues. But with less than two weeks to go, and the capital under a fourth COVID-19 state of emergency, many have been told their services won't be needed.
The spectator ban also applies to events in prefectures surrounding Tokyo, as well as Hokkaido and Fukushima. The city of Fujisawa, just southwest of the capital, will host the Olympic sailing events and had enlisted about 800 volunteers. City officials emailed all of them on July 9 to let them know their assignments had been canceled.
Akasaka Masanori, the Fujisawa official in charge of the city's preparation, says the development is regrettable and he feels sorry for all the volunteers who have spent years rehearsing their roles.
For Sugimatsu, there is at least hope that her services will still be needed in some capacity this summer. Organizers have not yet announced whether spectators will be allowed at the Paralympics, and her home prefecture, Chiba, is due to host sitting volleyball, para-taekwondo and wheelchair fencing.
Sugimatsu attended a seminar on Saturday for the volunteers who may be required during the Paralympics. She says all she can do is pray that she'll be needed.
"If Paralympics volunteer activities are canceled too, it will be yet another disappointment, but I don't want to think about it now," she says.
Sugimatsu says even her family members are puzzled by her commitment. They just want to see the Games canceled. But she says she has her uniform and wants to fulfill the role she signed up for.