The countdown to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 began back in early 2019 for Maika Kuroda, and now, just weeks out from the Opening Ceremony, the local resident is primed and ready to go.
“Two-and-a-half years ago I began to think about becoming a volunteer,” Kuroda said. “I first learned of the volunteer programme through my company. But I wanted to have an opportunity to communicate with other people, so I applied to be an official volunteer on my own.”
The 29-year-old will be working at the Nippon Budokan. Home to two of the most popular Olympic sports in Japan, judo and karate, it is one of the most iconic of all the 42 competition venues for the Olympic Games. Not only is it the nation’s spiritual home of martial arts, but it also boasts a strong Olympic heritage, having hosted judo on its Olympic debut the last time the Games took place in Tokyo in 1964.
Kuroda has undertaken the necessary training to ensure she is all set for the arrival of athletes, media and local fans at the Budokan, which also welcomed The Beatles on their historic visit in 1966.
“I took two programmes. One was e-learning from the Olympic website, learning about how we should prepare in mind and manner when welcoming people from abroad,” explained Kuroda who, having studied English in both the USA and Canada, will be working as a translation guide for athletes.
“The other one was an in-person class two years ago. I was just starting my Olympic volunteer work then. I will also have another chance to join an education programme in July. So I am prepared.”
Volunteers have long been the backbone of the Olympic Movement and intrinsic to its success. In the early days of the modern Games, from the first edition in Athens in 1896, boy scout groups, the national army and pioneering local sports clubs took charge of many of the required tasks. This changed gradually and, by the Olympic Games Los Angeles 1984, the local Organising Committee had around 30,000 volunteers on its books and was responsible for training and managing them.
Tatsuro Iwahashi knows therefore that he will be following a well-trodden path when he takes up his position as a language volunteer in the Olympic and Paralympic Village. And, despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, he feels well prepared thanks to the online tools that allowed for efficient remote training.
“The e-learning system was helpful. I also took a couple of seminars,” the 30-year-old Iwahashi said. “I have to study a little bit more. They have been sending a lot of information to me, but I am confident to perform my role.”
The dissemination of information has and will continue to be key for all volunteers.
“In addition to holding general training and e-learning sessions, we have provided field cast members [volunteers] with a variety of resources, including a volunteer handbook and support guide in preparation for the Games,” Tokyo 2020 said in a recent statement.
“Since April, we have been conducting various training sessions, including role-specific training, leadership training and venue-specific training according to each volunteer’s roles and activities. Role-based training varies depending on the content and location of the activity, but we are making use of online learning as much as possible.”
As far as both Kuroda and Iwahashi are concerned, these measures have been highly successful. The duo are also happy with the precautions taken by the organisers in order to minimise risk in the face of COVID-19.
“The countermeasures for COVID are very comprehensive,” Iwahashi said. “They [the Organising Committee] have given me the opportunity to be vaccinated. Together, this gives me great confidence that we will have a successful Games.”
Kuroda agreed. She pointed out that volunteers will be taking a myriad of precautions, including maintaining a safe distance between each other, the athletes and fans, wearing masks and using hand sanitisers.