Tokyo 2020 Committee Addresses Spectator Concerns

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    Veteran Malaysian diver Pandelela Rinong has competed in three Olympics and is no stranger to the rigors of competitive sports. But never before has she experienced anything like the preparations for next month’s Tokyo Games.

    Living in a training bubble to keep out Covid-19, the 28-year-old hasn’t seen her family for a year. Her life in Kuala Lumpur is stuck in a loop between a training facility and her residence, a three-minute walk away — though she must use a transit van to minimize interaction with potentially infected members of the public. The only company she keeps is with fellow athletes.

    “It’s not really healthy to be training like this in a quarantine base,” said the current women’s 10 meter platform champion who has two Olympics medals. “We only train mostly inside and you cannot even leave the complex.”

    Pandelela will be among 11,000 athletes soon arriving in Tokyo as Japan presses ahead with the world’s biggest sporting event set to start July 23 amid the worst public health crisis in a generation. There’s a loud clamor domestically to cancel or delay the games again out of fears that it could be a Covid superspreading event. Public health experts have called it irresponsible at a time when the pathogen and its more dangerous variants still take lives in many parts of the world.

    For the aspiring athletes, the road to this year’s Olympics and Paralympics has been long, uncertain and arduous. And the event itself is likely to be strangely lifeless — no pomp and splendor, no revelry after victories and no families to offer support. Instead, just a smattering of domestic spectators will be silently watching in the stands.

    nstead, their welcome package will contain a 70-page document outlining rules on movements and behavior during the games, as well as potential fines if they break protocol. Athletes will be subject to a three-day quarantine upon arrival and will be required to get tested daily. They must stay in a bubble within the athletes’ village. Socializing and group meals are prohibited. And they must depart Japan within 48 hours of their last event.

    Still, the only thing worse than the Covid-era Olympics would be not being able to compete at all, they say.

    “Take away the Olympics, and a big chunk of my ‘why’ is gone,” said Kate Nye, a Team USA weightlifter who’s the current world champion in the women’s 71 kilograms division and is competing in her first Olympics.

    Winning a medal on the world stage is an obvious draw for athletes, but success at the Olympics could also mean more money and recognition through sponsorship deals or government support. For some, this could be their only shot at a medal. While an extra year to train helps, they say the anxiety surrounding the uncertainty has been unnerving.

    Since the original 2020 event was postponed, the International Olympic Committee and local organizers in Japan have been determined to show the world the event can be pulled off successfully with stringent safety control.

    With only a month to go, the event is still controversial in Japan and around the world. Local epidemiologists are predicting that the Olympics could coincide with a fresh wave of Covid-19 cases due to the spread of variants. Influential bodies, like the Asahi newspaper that’s also an official sponsor, have advocated cancellation in recent months, creating uncertainty over whether the event would proceed.

    Prime Minister Yoshishide Suga said late Thursday that organizers will cap the number of domestic spectators at 10,000, about a seventh of the main stadium’s capacity — but even that decision could be backtracked depending on the state of the virus spread, according to local media reports.

    “Some people have asked us what Japan’s situation is, but honestly with this pandemic, we don’t know anything,” said Ryo Takahashi, a Japanese sailor who lives and trains in New Zealand.

    In Japan, athletes have faced calls from the public to drop out of competition. Other Olympians say they often follow news about opposition to the games, but feel powerless to do anything about it.

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