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Editorial: Better volunteer system needed for Tokyo 2020 to maximize participation

Today, July 24, marks exactly two years until the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.

The application period to become Olympic volunteers is planned to open this fall. An estimated 10 million people are expected to visit during the period of the games, and the role of meeting the needs of those people and aiding in the smooth operation of the event is to be filled by volunteers.

Some 80,000 people are required as event volunteers to work in and around venues, the Olympic village and in other locations. However, doubt has been cast over whether or not that many people can be gathered to fill the positions.

On July 23, the temperature in central Tokyo reached 39 degrees Celsius. This raises concerns about the severe heat limiting the number of volunteers.

How to deal with the scorching conditions has become an important issue. Measures to restrict the period of outdoor activities are needed. During the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics earlier this year, there were over 2,000 volunteers who withdrew due to the freezing conditions under which the events were held. The Tokyo Games must be careful not to repeat this due to extreme heat.

The strictness of the conditions for participating as a volunteer for the Tokyo Games is also acting as a barrier.

The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is asking that venue volunteers must devote eight hours a day for a period of over 10 days. When those conditions were announced in March of this year, primarily online, criticism arose that the conditions were "black," or harsh.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government needs 30,000 city volunteers, who will be tasked with guiding visitors at airports and in train stations. Their conditions are set a bit lower, with around five hours of activity per day, for more than five days. It is also not required to participate for consecutive days.

In June, the organizing committee clarified on its website that the required activity hours for venue volunteers included breaks, and that there was a possibility of lowering the requested period of 10 days. Guidelines for consecutive volunteer days were also changed to five days or less.

At first, it was asked that volunteers be responsible for their own transportation costs. This, too, has been altered so that it will be covered in some way.

Individuals who wish to become volunteers want to gain a sense of joy from interacting with people from all over the world and providing hospitality to others. Using their feelings of purpose in an underhanded way to guarantee a workforce that will agree to work long hours is unacceptable.

During the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, some 35,000 volunteers participated in soccer's biggest event. The majority of them were young people like university students. The period for the Tokyo Games falls during the summer vacation period, and this is expected to increase the number of young people volunteering to help out with the management of the international event.

But it is hoped that people belonging to other generations -- from those currently in the workforce to retirees and older citizens -- will support the Tokyo Olympics as volunteers. Bringing Japan's various generations together will be the key to holding a successful Tokyo Games.

Volunteering is a unique opportunity to become directly involved in the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Conditions should be loosened so that as many people as possible are able to participate.

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