The countdown clock has been reset, the wait prolonged: In a world without the pandemic, the Tokyo Olympics would have been declared open on Friday. Instead, they are now the first postponed Olympic Games in history, with the opening ceremony rescheduled to exactly a year from today: July 23, 2021.
Yet, an unmissable asterisk mark hangs over the event that will have roughly 11,000 athletes, 28,000 media and technical officials, and 80,000 volunteers and other staff. The nature of the coronavirus and the disruptions it has caused has made it impossible for the organisers to give a surety the Olympics will be held next year. But there are some indications over what it might look like if it does take place.
For one, the priority is no longer to ‘pursue something that amazes and moves people’, Japanese Olympic Committee President Yasuhiro Yamashita has been quoted as saying. “Our first priority concept is to ensure safety and security,” he told a media conference.
The mantra is to make the Games ‘simpler’. But to take something as gigantic as the Olympics and make it simple is proving to be the most complex task for the organising committee.
Japan’s national broadcasting corporation NHK reported on Wednesday that the organising committee has drawn up ‘400 proposals’ to ensure the Games can go ahead in a secure environment even without a vaccine.
The proposed measures, as per NHK, dwell on aspects like athletes being asked to refrain from eating or shouting in locker rooms. While travelling to and from the Games Village to the venues, they could be asked to travel on different buses despite being on the same team to ensure social distancing, with the windows kept open for ventilation. During media interviews, a transparent partition could be placed between the athlete and the interviewer.
But questions remain over the possibility of travel. Earlier this week, the New York Times wondered if team USA will be allowed if the virus spread continued at the same rate, given Japan has closed its borders to more than 100 countries.
Easing travel restrictions
“They are talking about special immigration arrangements,” John Coates, the International Olympic Committee vice-president, told the Sydney Morning Herald. “They’re talking about quarantine or isolation considerations for pre-Games arrival, they’re talking about an active COVID testing regime, just to name a few.”
Seiko Hashimoto, Japan’s Olympic minister, recently said the government is considering easing travel restrictions for international athletes competing at the Olympics. “Inbound travellers will most likely be required to undergo polymerase chain reaction tests before departure and upon arrival in Japan,” Kyodo news agency reported.
A two-week quarantine period is unlikely, given the logistical complications it could trigger the report added. To prevent cluster outbreaks at the Olympic village, where athletes will share rooms, cafeterias, dining halls and buses, there could be restrictions on the movement. Some nations, like Australia, are considering reducing the stay of their athletes inside the village, arriving just before the event and leaving shortly after it concludes.
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Earlier this month, Japan became one of the few nations that allowed spectators back into the stands for sporting events. But the fans had to adhere to a number of rules, which included them wearing face masks, no hugging, no using fingers while whistling, no shouting, among other things.
These restrictions are likely to be enforced even on those visiting Tokyo for the Olympics. “Proposals for spectators include the mandatory use of cashless payment system at shops. They will also be asked not to shout and will be required or recommended to wear face masks,” NHK reported.
IOC president Thomas Bach has repeatedly said an Olympics without spectators in the stands is a possibility they have not yet considered. Indications so far are that fans from other countries will be allowed, with the organising committee announcing that the same tickets that were purchased for this year would remain valid for 2021.
There have been suggestions that, in the worst-case scenario, a locals-only crowd would fill the stands. The idea has been shot down by IOC members, who have argued such a move would ‘counter Olympics’ cosmopolitan spirit’.
The organisers have said a greater, more concrete picture of how the Olympics will be held will be provided in October following the meeting of the team leaders of all nations.
Amid all the possibilities, one thing remains certain: “If current situation continues, we couldn’t (hold the Games),” organising committee chairman Yoshiro Mori told NHK. But he was a little more optimistic. “…I don’t think this situation will last for another year. Whether the Olympics can be done or not is about whether humanity can beat the coronavirus. Specifically, to develop a vaccine or drug is the first point.”
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