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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Games in Covid times: What’s different in Tokyo

The most common aspects of an Olympic Games will now be seen in a completely different way.

Written by Shahid Judge |
Updated: July 23, 2021 4:45:51 pm

In this edition of the Olympic Games, the ultimate celebration of sport, the celebration element has taken a backseat. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Japanese government has imposed strict restrictions in an attempt to stop the virus from breaking into the bubble. The social element has been taken away and what’s left is the basic prospect of athletes coming in, performing in their respective disciplines, and leaving immediately.

The most common aspects of an Olympic Games will now be seen in a completely different way.

Self-service medal ceremony

Traditionally, medal ceremonies are held with pomp, as celebrated guests – mostly former Olympians – place medals around the necks of the podium-finishers. This time, in front of no fans in attendance, a tray with the medal will be brought out to the podium, and the top three finishers will collect the medal and place it around their necks themselves. Additionally, the athletes will need to be wearing masks, and cannot shake hands or offer hugs.

Low-key opening ceremony

Over 4,000 background performers took to the Maracana Stadium along with around 12,600 athletes and delegates for the opening ceremony at the Rio Games. The event this time is expected to have been scaled down to a more “sobering ceremony,” as described by opening ceremony executive producer Marco Balich.

There is also expected to be a smaller number of athletes per country coming out for the iconic Parade of Nations. Great Britain will send 30 of its 376-strong contingent, 30-40 from Canada’s 370, while 50 from the 470 athletes from Australia will take part. India will send 20 athletes along with six officials from the 127-strong contingent – the largest ever from the country.

Eat in silence

No athlete is allowed to eat at a restaurant outside the Games village. Instead, they dine at the 3,000-seater two-storey cafeteria in the Games Village, where 48,000 meals will be served daily.

Athletes will be expected to eat with plastic screens separating them from one another. Hand-sanitising stations are placed throughout the facility. They’re also not allowed to linger before or after meals, as the athletes’ playbook describes: “Diners should keep mealtimes as short as possible and leave as soon as they have finished eating.”

Restricted movement

Athletes are not allowed to travel to venues staging sports other than their own to watch matches – as has been the norm at previous Olympics. In fact, they’re not allowed to stay in Japan for long either, as players can only enter Japan five days before their event, and must leave Tokyo within 48 hours of either losing or their event finishing.

Additionally, according to the playbook, athletes have to wear “a face mask at all times – except when eating, drinking, training, competing or sleeping.”


Athletes have often engaged in intimacy during their time at the Olympics. Organisers accordingly make condoms available – around 4,50,000 were distributed at the Rio Games. During the 2016 edition, dating app Tinder had reported an increased rate of ‘matches’ by 129 per cent.

Japanese organisers too had, pre-pandemic, tied up with four condom manufacturers to distribute around 1,60,000 this time. But with the Covid scare still rampant, they have decided that the condoms will be used more as souvenirs and will be handed out once athletes vacate the village. It’s a subtle way of promoting the idea of celibacy.

Another subtle message is in the playbook: “Avoid unnecessary forms of contact such as hugs, high-fives and handshakes.”

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