By Matthew Rodriguez
Tokyo 2020 Summer Games prioritize health and safety protocols amid uncertainty
(LOS ANGELES, CALIF.) – In any other time, the host country of an Olympic event agrees to an enormous logistical undertaking. Playing host country during a global pandemic is at turns both reckless and admirable. With less than five months until the rescheduled 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, Olympic officials are standing firm that the global event will go on as planned with athletes from 206 countries competing.
Fresh concerns from Japanese citizens of a surge in COVID-19 cases spread by athletes weighed against the multibillion-dollar investment of hosting the biggest sporting event in the world has Tokyo 2020 committee officials scrambling to create health protocols.
“The people’s passion was there,” said Seiko Hashimoto, the head of the Tokyo Olympics at a press junket on March 5. “We want to bring back this feeling, so that we can turn their concerns into excitement and expectations for the Summer Games.” says Hashimoto when pressed on a lack of support from the Japanese public for moving ahead with the event during the pandemic.
An opinion poll published by Yomiuri newspaper showed 58% of people in Japan directly oppose holding the games this year. A surge in COVID-19 cases this past winter, the worst surge since the pandemic began, has since dampened enthusiasm.
The release of four “playbooks”: international federations, athletes and officials, press, and broadcasters by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games outline the cautions and safety measures each group must follow to ensure safety this year.
Here are the main rules for athletes and officials.
Before arriving in Japan, playbook guidelines require all athletes and officials to monitor their health 14 days prior to departure for Japan, provide an itinerary for all activities, and obtain a negative COVID-19 test certificate. Athletes will also take another COVID-19 test within 72 hours before departure.
Additionally, athletes and officials also are required to download a contact tracing smartphone application on their devices as well as provide a list of all the people they are expected to have close contact with during their stay.
Upon entering Japan, athletes must present all relevant documents and evidence of a negative COVID-19 test to immigration authorities where they then will take an additional test, moving quickly through the airport with minimal activity and avoid the use of public transportation throughout their stay.
At the games, participants agree to be screened and tested for COVID-19 at different intervals throughout the event, following only the activities in their 14-day activity plan. They are also asked to keep displays of athlete support to clapping only and isolate if any are experiencing symptoms or told do so by a contact tracing application.
These specified guidelines are all meant to be followed under social distancing and public hygiene guidelines of social distancing, frequent handwashing, and masks worn at all times when in contact with others as recommended by the World Health Organization.
With regards to spectators in the stands this year, no official agreement has yet been reached to allow foreign fans for the games. Despite numerous conflicting statements from Tokyo 2020 officials who hope to reach a decision by the end of March, the risk already involved in receiving athletes from across the globe makes foreign travel for fans unlikely.
“If the situation is tough, and [having foreign fans] would make the [Japanese] consumers concerned, that is a situation we need to avoid from happening,” Hashimoto said when questioned by reporters after a meeting with Thomas Bach, head of the International Olympic Committee.
The Olympic Games will provide an optimal breeding ground for infections like SARS-CoV-2 to spread due to the fact alone of people coming from all corners of the globe. Safety measures during the Games will likely be insufficient: most infections will be transmitted before, after, and adjacent to the Games.
Although the athletes may be protected, the host community will not be. Temperature checks are next to useless in detecting or preventing transmission of the virus which render the above precautions little more than hygiene theater.
Moreover, we do not have a firm grasp on the dangers of the new variants of SARS-CoV-2. Whether they are more transmissible, more dangerous, or resistant to vaccines is still unknown. This type of mass gathering certainly encourage the virus to spread and any novel variants will be quickly taken back to the athletes’ home countries.
There is no doubt surrounding the hefty price tag of an already costly summer games in which its delay last year costed Olympic organizers an additional $2.8 billion on a $26 billion event, the most expensive summer games on record.
The loss of ticket sales and tourism cash flow will also cost organizers and could spell trouble for Japan’s economy if the games are cancelled outright.
Global supplies of vaccines around the world still limited to essential workers and the vulnerable, athletes are encouraged but not required to vaccinate. Japan, having just started its own rollout of citizen inoculation, will not have achieved herd immunity before the games begin.
A global event in a global pandemic with global consequences does contain a great degree of recklessness. Yet, these events deserve to go on.
The feats of the best physical specimen’s humanity have to offer from 206 countries across the globe after a lifetime of training that for many results in this one chance for the gold, competing against all odds for their country.
The aspiration and perseverance of continuing the games can’t be denied.
However, it will be those most unable to afford the consequences, namely the unvaccinated Japanese population and those of athletes’ respective home countries, that will pay the price. Aspirations aside, it would be foolish to assume Tokyo 2020 will be left unscathed. Only time will tell.