— Published 4 May 2021

The Tokyo Olympics in search of doctors… but only volunteers

A new file has just been placed atop the organizing committee’s stack for the Olympics in Tokyo. Though it wasn’t planned, it will be a decisive factor for the Games’ success.

Less than three months before the opening, the organizers still have an urgent need of medical staff. The (serious) issue is that they do not seem ready to pay for it.

The polemic is swelling in Japan since a letter, sent last month by the organizing committee to the Japanese Nursing Association, was revealed. In this mail, the comittee requested the provision of at least 500 nurses for the duration of the Olympics in Tokyo.

The committee was strongly criticized on social media, despite all the efforts made by Toshiro Muto, Tokyo 2020 General Manager, to ensure that it did not intend to weaken the healthcare system. The organizers now have another target. But it is not certain that their approach will calm people’s minds.

According to the Mainichi Shimbun, the organizing committee asked the Japanese Sports Association (JSPO) to help recruit 200 sports doctors for the Games.

Nothing very unexpected, you would say. Lacking a sufficient number of nurses, the organizers are turning to another branch of the medical sector. But the controversial part is that they did not consider to pay those doctors, who will join the volunteers.

According to recruitment guidelines, the doctors would be responsible for the emergency care of patients suffering from heatstroke, the treatment of the sick and injured, including people suspected of being infected by the coronavirus. They would be deployed all over the Olympic facilities, mainly in care centers installed on competition sites.

The organizing committee is looking for doctors available at least three or five days during the Tokyo Olympics. They will have to make nine-hour shifts. They will not receive any financial compensation, except for travel expenses to the venues. Applications will be received until May 14th.

According to several sources quoted by the Japanese media, about 10,000 health professionals were initially expected to take part in the Olympics. At least 300 doctors and 400 nurses are needed on a daily basis on competition venues and the Olympic Village.

With 80 days to go before the opening of the Games, the recruitment of these essential healthcare workers is not only a burning issue for the organizing committee, but also an opportunity for the opponents of the Games to speak up.

The Japanese Federation of Medical Worker’s Unions general secretary, Susumu Morita, belongs to them. “It is now time to stop sending our nurses as Olympic volunteers,” he explained to the Associated Press. Their first mission should be to fight the coronavirus pandemic. I am increasingly annoyed by this persistence on pursuing the Olympics despite the risk for the health and lives of patients and nurses.”

The Mainichi Shimbun exposure of the organizing committee’s approach to recruit 200 sports doctors on a voluntary basis has reignited controversy on social media. “Why don’t they pay doctors, when the medical sector is desperately short of staff and money?”, questioned a Japanese Internet user.