Such a move appears to have the support of Japan’s Olympic minister, former Olympian Seiko Hashimoto, but concerns about the perception of “special treatment” could also factor into the final decision.
“The more one loses through lack of practice, the more time it takes to regain that. This is just the view of one former athlete, but I think it’s necessary to get back with the athletes,” former Olympic speed skater and track cyclist Hashimoto said at a press conference on Friday.
Along with the Japan Institute of Sports Sciences, the center in Tokyo’s Kita Ward is the training headquarters for the country’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes.
As the coronavirus pandemic forced sports leagues and facilities to shut down one after another, the twin national centers remained open as a last resort for athletes until the emergency declaration in early April.
The Japanese Olympic Committee set a lofty target of 30 gold medals before the coronavirus forced the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Games by roughly one year, but some insiders fear the target will be unachievable unless preparations resume quickly.
“If things continue and we’re unable to use the training facilities, it will be impossible to reach our goal,” said an official in charge of athlete development.
But with ordinary Japanese citizens being asked to practice social distancing to combat the spread of the pneumonia-causing coronavirus, there are concerns an exemption for athletes could send the wrong message.
Complicating matters, several high-profile athletes have already thrown their support behind online campaigns urging people to stay home to curb the virus’ spread.
While outdoor facilities could be reopened in line with the recommended social distancing guidelines, there is still no guarantee they would remain free from infection.
JOC officials agree on the need to resume preparations as quickly as possible, but they remain extremely cautious about managing both the health risks and the public image of the Olympic program.
“Is it possible to gain understanding from the public if we resume things? It’s a difficult situation,” a JOC official said.