How do you host two of the world’s greatest sporting events and keep them safe and secure during a global health crisis?
A question that caused sleepless nights to the organizers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games which could not be answered with conviction until the flame in the Olympic Stadium went out.
The coronavirus pandemic has thrown a giant key into one of the best-oiled machines in sport.
Every four years tens of thousands of athletes and officials traveled and media from all corners of the world to the greatest sports stage of all. You didn’t have to spit in tubes regularly to find out whether you were positive or negative.
There were no masks, there was no social distancing, there were no temperature controls and you didn’t have to store your health data daily via an app. You can even move freely around the host city without your accreditation being withdrawn.
Yes, all Olympic and Paralympic organizers are struggling, but Tokyo 2020 stepped into the unknown after an unprecedented health crisis.
After the Games postponed for a year due to COVID-19, Tokyo 2020, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) in cooperation with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Japanese government began to formulate a plan to keep the two events safe .
At the center of these efforts were a series of COVID-19 countermeasures described in « playbooks » that were distributed to athletes and officials, international associations, marketing partners, broadcasters and the press traveling to the Japanese capital .
The document was viewed by the organizers as « Your Guide to Safe and Successful Games » « Would provide additional protection to our hosts, the residents of Japan ».
« You must adhere to the playbook in full for 14 days prior to your trip, throughout your entire trip, and throughout your entire time in Japan – and your interaction with Keep non-game participants to a minimum, « it said.
The playbooks oblige foreign participants to follow the rules before they travel to Japan, when they enter the country, during their time at the games and when they do Leave the host country. If they fail to adhere to COVID-19 protocols, they have been warned that their accreditation and financial sanctions could be temporarily or permanently withdrawn.
According to the Tokyo 2020 figures, July 1st to September 8th 529 people associated with the Olympics tested positive, including 28 athletes.
The organizers also confirmed that there were 316 positive cases associated with the Paralympics from August 12 to September 8. Thirteen of them were athletes.
That’s 28 athletes out of 11,656 who participated in the Olympics and 13 out of 4,403 who took part in the Paralympics.
If you look at these numbers, it’s clear that Tokyo 2020 triumphed in protecting its competitors from the coronavirus.
But it didn’t go completely smoothly and as one of the many Covid-19 liaison officers I can assure you that it was anything but stress-free.
The Preparing for the games was fraught with worry as I was waiting for an activity plan that was never approved and my OCHA app didn’t work even when I arrived.
There was also a lot of confusion in Tokyo as a COVID-19 official told me I had to be tested every four days between the two games and other media that stayed for the Paralympics were not informed at all.
Officials spoke of increased surveillance of foreign participants, only to then stop the 15-minute Fri st for leaving hotels before reintroducing it even for those who had completed their 14-day quarantine.
Sometimes everything felt a bit mixed up as the staff were not aware of the changes, which were made by their superiors.
It is now up to the organizers of the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing to iron out any malfunctions that have occurred in the system and to alleviate the stress of the COVID-19 liaison officers with clearer communication.
Unlike Tokyo 2020, Beijing 2022 has at least one strong platform to build on when it puts together its plan to fight the coronavirus with the IOC and IPC. The first of two versions of the playbooks for the games is slated to be unveiled later this month, but why release two when one is enough?
The documents are expected to be broadly the same as Tokyo 2020, given how well it did the Olympic and Paralympic Summer Games makes sense. However, Beijing 2022 is expected to take a tougher stance on COVID-19 tests and vaccinations.
After meeting the IOC board of directors, organizers confirmed this week that those who were not fully vaccinated against the coronavirus will participate their arrival in the Chinese capital will have a 21-day quarantine period. All game-related employees must also be tested daily to gain access to a « closed-loop management system » that allows them to travel to specific venues by special means of transport.
Although the thought of catching a coronavirus every day -To undergo the test seems excessive, it is better that everyone is on the same page.
While the Organizing Committee did not say vaccination is required to participate in the Games, the prospect of three weeks in isolation spending if not double stabbed sounds like a brief jail sentence.
Studies have found that people are three times less likely to test positive for coronavirus after receiving two doses of a vaccine. Beijing 2022’s stance on vaccination may seem strong, but it could well lead to less positive cases popping up.
COVID-19 thrives in cooler climates, while the induction of domestic spectators in halls – though welcome – gives organizers a boost Another challenge is keeping the virus at bay.
But there are fewer athletes compared to summer games, with Tokyo 2020 hosting almost four times more than Pyeongchang 2018, which may make it easier to control the spread of the coronavirus.
Considering that 0.24 percent of athletes got infected with the coronavirus at this year’s Olympics and 0.29 percent at the Paralympics, Beijing in 2022 must feel that it has a realistic chance of getting COVID -free games.
And so the organizers of the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games next year after the success of Tokyo 2020 possibly can se finally answer the follow-up question: How do you hold the two events without a single athlete testing positive?
Geoff Berkeley is a senior reporter at insidethegames.biz. After joining the Midlands-based newspaper publisher Bullivant Media in 2011, Geoff rose to the position of editor of the Malvern Observer and sports editor of several other weekly titles. He was then named the Worcester Warriors Correspondent for the Worcester News, where he was nominated Sports Journalist of the Year at the Midlands Media Awards in 2016 and 2017. He also worked for Sportsbeat in 2020.
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