By Evelyn KwongToronto Star
Thu., July 15, 2021timer3 min. read
updateArticle was updated 48 mins ago
Around five years ago, when Ayumi Nakamura heard that Tokyo would be hosting the Summer Olympics in 2020, she was ecstatic.
The Tokyo resident is an avid basketball fan. For decades, she has spent mornings catching up on NBA games despite the time difference. She also loves watching her country’s team, nicknamed the Akatsuki Five. But her favourite player? Japanese hometown hero and Toronto Raptor Yuta Watanabe. With the forward playing for Team Japan on home soil, Nakamura got to planning, hoping for a chance to fulfil her lifetime dream of attending the Olympics at home.
The pieces began falling into place. In 2019, she won a lottery bid to buy tickets for the Olympic Games, spending more than $7,000 CAD between her and her husband to watch 15 basketball events.
With tickets secured, she even quit her job to ensure she wouldn’t miss this proud moment. “I left my job and took one that had more flexibility for taking (days off) during the Olympic Games,” said the 42-year-old who works in education technology.
But now, with opening day less than two weeks away, Tokyo is under a state of emergency due to rising COVID-19 cases and variants of concern. Restaurants and bars are either to close or not sell alcohol. Spectators will not be permitted at Tokyo-area Olympic venues.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the new measures were essential to protect Tokyo, where the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 variant continues to spread. The city recorded 1,149 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the most since Jan. 22. As of July 13, just under 20 per cent of Japan’s population had been fully vaccinated.
Nakamura said she’s not discounting the rise in cases and the very real consequences of COVID-19, but says she feels the country’s lagged vaccination rollout, as well as other political factors, led to the first Olympic Games in history without spectators.
“We’re all frustrated with COVID-19. Japan was slow to start vaccinating people,” she said.
Nakamura is hoping for her first vaccination by September, but in her municipality, only those 65 years and older and health-care workers have been prioritized.
In addition to a lagged vaccination rollout, she also believes that politics played a part in the decision to ban spectators at the Games, pointing to the fact professional basketball was open to spectators up to 50 per cent capacity until the season recently ended, and soccer and baseball games continue to be open to spectators in the country.
“There are rumours that the decision to hold the Olympics without spectators was influenced by the fact that the political party that had been advocating holding the Olympics without spectators gained support,” Nakamura said, pointing to a July 4 election.
In an email to ticket holders, sent to Nakamura and reviewed by the Star, the International Olympic Committee wrote, “We deeply regret for all the ticket purchasers that this measure had to be put in place, though it is a critical measure to prevent the infection spread.” All ticket holders will be refunded.
“I was sad because I’ve been looking forward to the Games for almost two years since I got tickets. After that I needed to give up many things due to COVID-19 but I’ve been patient and staying safe hoping for this opportunity,” Nakamura said.
So, how will Nakamura be taking in the Games instead? Though she’s just a 30-minute trip to the stadium she was supposed to attend, she’ll be watching at home with her husband.
“I believe most of the ticket holders have the same feeling as me, sadness and anger. At least those around me do.”
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