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Tokyo 2020: eclipsed by Covid-19, athletes must shed light on troubled Olympics

When the opening ceremony kicks off on Friday, it will end months of speculation that the Olympics could even take place, as well as new questions about how Covid-19 might shape the weeks to come.

Tokyo 2020 will host around 11,000 athletes – representing more than 200 countries – and they will stay in 21 residential buildings.

However, not all of these athletes will be in Tokyo for the duration of the Games. The organizers say the athletes should arrive at the Olympic Village five days before their competition and leave no later than two days after.

Even so, it represents a significant logistical headache for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the local organizing committee.

Added to this is the long-standing resistance to hosting the Olympics among the Japanese public.

“Recent polls consistently show that 60 to 80 percent of the Japanese public oppose the Games,” Satoko Itani, associate professor of sports, gender and sexuality at Kansai University in Japan, told CNN Sport.

“Their main concern is Covid-19, but there is also growing frustration and anger with attitudes and a blatant disrespect for the lives of people here by the IOC, the Japanese government and the organizing committee.”

Contacted by CNN, the IOC referred to President Thomas Bach’s words at a press conference in Tokyo last Saturday: “Even in Japan, there has never been 100% support for the Olympic Games … it’s part of democracy, you will always have opinions, ”Bach said.

“That such a discussion becomes livelier and more emotional in a pandemic situation is something we need to understand.”

He later added that he wanted to give the public confidence in the organizers’ “strict Covid measures”.

The Tokyo 2020 organizing committee did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

“If you can’t carry out the plan, then the plan is not good”

Tokyo on Thursday recorded 1,979 new Covid cases, the highest since January 15, and on Thursday there have been 91 Games-related positive cases so far as those arriving in Tokyo undergo a rigorous testing program .

“The frequent testing is going to mean we’re going to continue to see cases as they arise, which is how the system should work,” Tara Kirk Sell, former Olympic swimmer for the United States and now Assistant at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, informs CNN Sport of organizers’ plans to contain the virus.

“The real question that remains is, will these measures be put in place in a way that makes them work? It’s all about the implementation. If you can’t execute the plan, then the plan is not good. . “

Earlier in July, a decision was made not to have spectators at venues in Tokyo and several other prefectures, while 85% of participating athletes were vaccinated against Covid-19.

Many countermeasures have been put in place, such as rules regarding mask wearing, personal hygiene, social distancing in and around the venues and the Olympic Village – where most of the athletes are housed – and an app to record the health status of the participants.

Athletes have strict arrival and departure dates around their events and may only leave the village to go to Games venues and other limited locations. Media commitments have also been reduced.

Bach called Tokyo the “best-prepared city” to host the Games, and organizers have spared no effort to ensure the Games can run safely.

But public concerns remain.

“The spread of the virus outside the ‘bubble’ because of the Olympics has already started,” Itani adds. “Since the Delta variant is quickly becoming the dominant strain in Tokyo, this can quickly escalate.”

Some athletes are also having to come to terms with the devastating news of a positive test, before or after arriving for the Games.

“I’m heartbroken… my Olympic trip ends here,” Dutch skater Candy Jacobs wrote on Instagram this week after testing positive in Tokyo. “I feel healthy and have done everything in my power to avoid this scenario and have taken every precaution.”

“Virtual cheers”

For the competing athletes, the Games will clearly have a very different complexion than the others, mainly due to the lack of fans.

Some of the people likely to make headlines over the next 16 days include American gymnast and reigning Olympic all-around champion Simone Biles, American swimmer and five-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, and star of Japanese tennis and four-time Grand Slam winner. Naomi Osaka.
Tokyo 2020: eclipsed by Covid-19, athletes must shed light on troubled Olympics
In athletics, there have been a string of new world records in preparation for Tokyo, including Karsten Warholm in the 400m hurdles, Ryan Crouser in the shot put and Letesenbet Gidey in the 10,000m, which made Sifan Hassan’s world better. . record two days ago.

Skateboarding, karate, sport climbing and surfing have all been recently added to the Olympic program in Tokyo, while baseball and softball are making a comeback.

The absence of spectators, which will be the case in 97% of competitions, is an unprecedented event at the Olympics, with “virtual cheers” and a screen allowing fans to send selfies and messages being used to the square.

Takeshi Niinami, CEO of Japanese beverage company Suntory, told CNN Business the move to ban spectators would result in “huge” economic loss, while Itani warns the Games will leave Japan “billions of dollars” of debts.

Athletes will have become accustomed to Covid-19 countermeasures like repeated testing and fanless sites, both of which have been in place at sporting events throughout the pandemic. Circumstances are likely to affect all competitors differently.

“The thing for athletes is really to try to stick to their routine and process,” said Sell, who won a silver medal in the women’s 4×100-meter medley relay at the 2004 Olympics.

“I think there will be things that can confuse people. Not having a crowd is going to be weird for a lot of people, but for others it can just be a lack of distraction and being able to focus more closely. on their event, we’ll have to see how it works.

As for some of the athletes who will not compete in this year’s Olympics, there will be notable absences from the tennis competition with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal both exited due to injuries; Coco Gauff had to step down after testing positive before heading to Tokyo, while Serena Williams decided not to compete.

Some sports, including baseball, softball, soccer and shooting, took place before Friday, the day of the opening ceremony.

After that, events quickly follow one another. Over the next 16 days, it will be up to the athletes to try to shed some light on what has been a troubled Olympics with a complicated and prolonged build-up.


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