India’s athletes will get to soak in the view of the picturesque Harumi waterfront from apartments at the Olympic Village, and will dine at a massive two-storey hall serving 700 food options – everything from custom-made pasta to biryani and tandoor-cooked rotis. But at every step, they will also be reminded of the unusual circumstances the Tokyo Games are being held in.
The country’s athletes started to trickle in at the sprawling facility even as the first Covid-19 case was detected inside the Games Village on Saturday, raising concerns ahead of the opening ceremony, which is now just five days away. Japanese media reported that the person testing positive was a foreign national although the organisers did not reveal the identity.
Amidst the added anxiety, weightlifter Mirabai Chanu, one of India’s biggest medal hopes, was the first athlete from the country to check in on Friday. She was followed by the shooters, who travelled from Zagreb, the following morning while another 54 athletes and 34 officials are scheduled to arrive on Sunday.
Athletes have already been told that they cannot mix with those from other countries or roam around freely inside the village to avoid being exposed to the virus.
On Saturday, following the positive case, the Olympics organisers urged every team to be extra cautious. “We have been reminded to not remove our masks at any time when we step out of our rooms. They have told us not to meet in large groups or loiter around in the village common areas and be mindful of our own safety while using the gym or eating at the cafeteria,” an Indian contingent member told The Indian Express.
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The severe restrictions mean village life this time will be rather mundane compared to the fun-filled atmosphere that becomes one of the highlights of an athlete’s Olympic experience. “It’s so silent outside that it doesn’t feel like you are in an Olympic Village. But on a positive note, there will be fewer distractions this time so we will be able to focus on our preparations,” a shooting team member says.
The arrival at the Village, normally an occasion celebrated with huge fanfare, was extremely muted this time. There were no welcome parties, music or performers. Instead, at the artistically-designed façade of the plaza at the entrance of the Olympic Village are giant boards that list the Covid-19 countermeasures. Similar pictorials are dotted all over the village.
India’s Men and Women Hockey team arrive at IGI Airport, Delhi.
Take a look at the warm welcome they received! #Cheer4India@PMOIndia @ianuragthakur @NisithPramanik @WeAreTeamIndia @TheHockeyIndia @manpreetpawar07 @imranirampal @PIB_India pic.twitter.com/krNa4DOUVk
— SAIMedia (@Media_SAI) July 17, 2021
Unlike teams like the United States, China and Britain, which have entire apartments dedicated to them because of the large number of qualified athletes, India has three floors for the team in Tower Number 15 of the Village that they will share with a few other countries including Norway.
Team Australia, which will be housed in the block next to India’s, have decorated their floors with vibrant green-and-gold colours on the exterior and have sprung up a café on the ground floor, which will double up as a meeting point for their team.
A few metres away, the South Korean team unfurled large banners from their balconies that referred to the 16th-century war between Korea and Japan. They were swiftly ordered to remove it by the International Olympic Committee, who ruled it as provocative.
India’s decoration isn’t as elaborate as Australia’s or as ‘provocative’ as Korea’s. Regular-sized Tricolours hang out of the balconies and the athletes have been given keyrings that can be used at the vending machines in the basement of their tower.
— Rani Rampal (@imranirampal) July 17, 2021
“We had some doubts in our minds because of everything that we were reading before arriving in Tokyo. But from the moment we have landed, we feel a lot more positive,” Mirabai’s coach Vijay Sharma said. “The facilities are all really nice and almost every need of the athlete has been taken care of. The volunteers and the staff are very polite.”
Mirabai, who will be in action on July 24, will indulge in light workout routines and begin proper training sessions Monday onwards, Sharma said.
Indian athletes and support staff in seven sports – archery, badminton, judo, gymnastics, table tennis, hockey and weightlifting – took a chartered flight to Tokyo from Delhi on Saturday night.