Aussie Spirit, the Australian women’s softball team, are among the first athletes to arrive in Japan for the Tokyo Olympics after leaving Sydney on Monday, reports CNN.
They’ll be taking on some Japanese teams to warm up as they haven’t played against international opposition since February 2020,
“We’ve done so much training over the last year, now we finally get to play some really tough competition against Japanese clubs,” said squad member Jade Wall.
The softball squad are arriving at a time of mounting pressure on Japanese organisers, with polls in Japan showing a majority of Japanese people want the Olympics delayed again or cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Fans from abroad have already been barred from attending and there’s increasing speculation that events will be held in empty stadiums.
However, International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound recently told CNN that cancellation is “essentially off the table”.
Nevertheless, cancellation pressure grows daily on Tokyo organisers and the International Olympic Committee as more questions arise about the risks of bringing 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes from more than 200 countries into Japan.
A state of emergency in Tokyo, Osaka, and other prefectures was last week extended until June 20 as Covid-19 cases continue to put the medical system under strain.
The IOC says more than 80% of athletes and staff staying in the Olympic Village on Tokyo Bay will be vaccinated. They are expected to remain largely in a bubble at the village and at venues.
Softball Australia chief executive David Pryles said the squad would be taking the “utmost care” in terms of keeping themselves and the public safe.
“All staff and players heading to Japan today are fully vaccinated,” Pryles said. “They’ll also be undergoing stringent testing and checks as soon as they land at the airport and throughout their camp and the Olympics.”
Pryles said player movements would be restricted to one level of the team hotel in Ota, which would include meals, meetings and gym work, and the stadium where they’ll play a series of games against local professional teams and two games against Japan’s national team.
Spirit pitcher Kaia Parnaby and captain Stacey Porter are already in Japan as they play in the country’s pro league.
“The league over here is massive,” Parnaby told the ABC. “Softball is one of Japan’s national sports, so we’re very fortunate to be backed by big companies over here.”
When the team psychologist Deidre Anderson was asked what the biggest challenge was ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, she did not hesitate.
“Getting there,” she said.
As Australia is essentially closed, she might well have said “Getting back”, too.