Tokyo 2020’s New Complexion

What the recent visit from the IOC President, Thomas Bach told us about Tokyo’s new image of sterility

It is no secret that the Tokyo 2020 games will have a completely different complexion than any games before it. While the Olympic and Paralympic games change locations every four years, giving us new flavours in the form of cultural differences, the general concepts of the games often remain very much the same: celebration, competition and unity. There are even terms that the IOC and IPC promote to organizers to ensure that the image of the games remains constant. This year however, due to necessity, there will ultimately have to be a more one more, and that is the notion of a “sterile” atmosphere.

The games are still currently on schedule to take place next year. As the months continue, with promises of a vaccine on it’s way, the general feeling here in Tokyo has improved on the games outlook. It seems like the general opinion is that the games are a fifty-fifty chance to proceed, which is a drastic improvement from a mere few months ago. And that’s great that this optimism is rising, but as the cases continue to rise during the winter months, organizers can’t become complacent and the games are anything but a sure thing.

Thomas Bach visited Japan earlier this month to see how the progress of the games were going, and to discuss important issues specifically as it relates to fans and athletes. His visit also was to encourage stakeholders that the games will indeed go on. While we obviously don’t know what was completely discussed behind closed doors, we did get some important tidbits from what was discussed. What we know for certain, is that these games will be more business than usual.

Typically at the Summer Games, fans, athletes and volunteers alike are told to interact with locals as a way to improve the experience for everyone. National teams can often be seen out and about at local bars or restaurants, which the local service industries love. But this year the IOC and the Tokyo organizers will ask something new from competitors. That is to leave Japan almost immediately after competing. It’s simply the minimization of interactions around the venues and the Athlete’s Village will significantly reduce the chance of a cluster occurring. No sightseeing, no big celebrations, no post-competition vacation.

This quick dismissal wasn’t the only rule discussed however. Testing prior to landing in Japan will also be needed for athletes to circumvent the normally mandatory 14-day quarantine. This talk of skipping isolation periods extended to not only athletes and diplomats, but regular fans as well. It remains to be seen whether locals would be really willing to support such an approach, but it was a possibility discussed.

What was probably one of the most impactful and interesting note was the announcement related to the vaccine. Thomas Bach made it clear, while everyone involved will be strongly urged to take a vaccine prior to participating in the games; vaccination will ultimately not be a requirement.

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This is not really all that surprising, but still is a huge decision. It would be somewhat difficult for the IOC to enforce the rule and not come across as a overcontrolling business, rather than the sporting organization they claim to be. Instead they will pressure athletes to get the vaccine out of respect to the host nation. Perhaps this will be in the form of social media or private messages, but either way, they will do their best to convince all the athletes.

The sterility of the games could also extend to the audience. Japan hosted a gymnastics event in November as a way to prove that it is capable of having some form of spectators. Regardless whether there ultimately will be fans, we know that it will certainly not be at full capacity. Social distancing is a must and many tickets have begun to be refunded.

The hopes are high that all will be good to go next year. But it is important to not expect the exact images we’re use to seeing. The lives of countless have changed in the past year, and the Olympics and Paralympic games don’t escape that change either. There will be many compromises needed to be made to ensure the games will be safe for everyone involved.

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A writer living in Japan. Creating articles about the 2020 Tokyo Games. A regular contributor to Junkture Magazine.