Australia’s softball team on Tuesday became the first athletes to land in Japan for the Olympics, in a major milestone for the pandemic-postponed Games, which continue to face controversy.
The “Aussie Spirit” squad touched down in Narita airport outside Tokyo along with their support staff and were immediately ushered off for coronavirus testing.
Everyone in the delegation has been vaccinated but they still faced testing before departure and on arrival, and will also be subject to stringent restrictions during their stay.
Much of Japan, including Tokyo, is under a virus state of emergency, and polls largely show a majority of Japanese want the Games further delayed or cancelled altogether.
Australia’s softball team said they were prepared for the rules and happy to be getting back to play after pandemic disruption. For some, Tokyo 2020 could be their last shot at Olympic glory, with softball not featuring at Paris 2024.
“But look, we’re all prepared for it, we want to do everything that we can to make sure that we’re safe when we get there and we’re safe while we’re in Japan as well.”
The team will head from the airport straight to their training base in Ota city, around 100 kilometres (about 60 miles) north of Tokyo.
And the entire delegation will be kept to a single hotel floor for sleeping, eating and working out at the gym.
But the trip is still a “huge” moment for the team, who had their Olympic preparations interrupted by the pandemic and have not played together since February 2020, he told AFP.
Their first fixture — against the hosts — will kick off Olympic competition on July 21, two days before the opening ceremony.
But Ota’s Mayor Masayoshi Shimizu told reporters Monday that the city was proud to “offer support to show our friendship” and maintain long-running ties with Australia.
They’ll be jumping the queue as Japan’s comparatively slow vaccine rollout so far only applies to medical workers and the elderly.