XXXII Olympiad on track as organisers unveil pandemic playbook
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XXXII Olympiad on track as organisers unveil pandemic playbook

Wednesday, 10 February 2021
This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
Organisers of the delayed Olympics in Tokyo have issued a guide to outline the safety measures that will be essential to ensure the games’ success during a global pandemic.

The official ‘playbook’ of the Tokyo Olympics has been unveiled, amid high hopes that the Games – postponed from 2020 due to COVID-19 – will go ahead this summer instead.

Organisers of the delayed XXXII Olympiad have issued the playbook to outline the safety measures that will be essential to ensure the games’ success during a global pandemic.

The rules will govern how teams can meet, train and interact, allowing them to compete as safely as possible. A constant cycle of testing will ensure athletes have the best chance of staying COVID-free throughout. Japan has already implemented stricter national measures to contain and reduce virus transmission ahead of the first international arrivals.

Accommodation in the Olympic Village, meanwhile, has been adapted to social distancing requirements, while high ceilings allow for effective air circulation. All in all, the playbook offers the most comprehensive illustration yet of how Tokyo is planning to host the Games in pandemic times—an extraordinary feat that offers a beacon of hope to a world still reeling from a year battling the coronavirus.

Planning for success

The playbook release is the latest indication that organisers are moving full steam ahead with preparations for the games, further rubbishing a recent story in the Times of London – quoting an anonymous source and categorically denied by both the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Japanese government – suggesting that they might be cancelled.

Staging the Olympics is a complex logistical operation, even in normal times. The added difficulties of welcoming circa 11,000 athletes from all over the world – together with countless judges, officials, staff and visitors – in the shadow of a pandemic makes it an even bigger undertaking. Tokyo, however, has spent tremendous time, effort and funds on addressing this challenge, with the playbook just the most recent indication that Japan is on track to host a successful Games despite the extenuating circumstances.

Fortunately, Japan has been affected to a lesser degree than other countries by the coronavirus. It has suffered just 5 fatalities per 100,000 residents since the beginning of the pandemic—a far cry from the soaring death tolls in Europe, where Belgium, for example, has tragically lost 187 people per 100,000 residents. This greater control over the virus has allowed Japan’s government to avoid imposing the kind of lengthy lockdowns that have become commonplace across Europe.

What’s more, Japan has already successfully carried out a number of medium-sized sporting events in the middle of the pandemic, giving policymakers in Tokyo the chance to test out measures designed to prevent the virus’s spread ahead of the Olympics. In October, the country carried out a three-day trial with a near-packed Yokohama Stadium, set to be an important venue during the Olympics.

Using cutting-edge technology including high-precision cameras and beacons, the trial monitored the flow and density of crowds and to tally the percentage of spectators wearing masks. A report after the trial yielded some encouraging news—filling up to 86% of the stadium’s capacity did not cause a single infection cluster, suggesting that the measures Japan has devised are capable of keeping even a large number of spectators safe.

Bringing the international community together

Given these encouraging signs that the world’s most famous sporting event can be held safely this summer, it’s clear that the Games would offer not only an economic boost but an international moment of unity to look forward to as the world begins to emerge from a dark period in our history.

For many of the athletes who have been diligently training under exceptional circumstances, this year’s Olympics may offer their single shot at glory. Preparing for an event that occurs just once every four years means that carefully planned training routines can easily be derailed. What’s more, as citizens around the world face suffering and deprivation, taking time to support international athletic excellence and the spirit of the Olympics could be one of the most positive antidotes we could prescribe for the abounding stress, anxiety and economic hardship.

There’s scarcely been a more meaningful moment for nations to unite in the spirit of friendly rivalry on the sporting field. Before the 2016 Rio Games, famous Olympic athlete Carl Lewis wrote about the Olympics’ power to briefly suspend the world’s troubles in a moment of global unity – a sentiment that’s needed more than ever after the difficulties of the past year.

Triumphing through adversity

The Olympic Games have a history of triumphing in times of adversity – London’s 1948 games (the so-called Austerity Olympics) went ahead despite the privations in the wake of World War II. These themes of resilience and recovery will undoubtedly resonate at the Tokyo games—combined with a more upbeat mood as COVID vaccine programs begin to yield results.

By the time the games begin in July, many millions of people will have already received their vaccinations (the EU is aiming to vaccinate 70 percent of its population by June). And, while getting back to the normality of pre-pandemic times is still a long way off, knowing that we’re heading in the right direction will bring a renewed sense of optimism. Naturally, the Olympic and Paralympic Games must prioritise the safety and well-being of competitors and attendees but it could offer a beacon of hope for nations around the world desperate to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s thought that Japan has already spent as much as $26 billion preparing for the games – factoring in the additional infrastructure investment and the cost of the year’s delay. Yoshiro Mori, the president of the Japanese Olympic organizing committee has confirmed that the games will go ahead, adding that it’s no longer a case of ‘whether’ they will be held but rather ‘how’ they will be staged to deliver the widest enjoyment possible under the sanitary circumstances.

2020 was wracked by uncertainty and division, with the pandemic and political challenges around the world throwing the globe into disarray. The Tokyo Olympics may herald the beginning of the recovery that’s so desperately needed.