If there are any lessons to be learned as Japan struggles to keep the dream of the delayed 2020 Olympics afloat, one is that pandemics and large-scale sporting events don’t mix. Just as the Japanese government released the first of several playbooks meant to guide athletes, coaches, and spectators participating in the delayed 2020 Summer Olympics on how to keep safe during the pandemic, organizers at the Australian Open were locking around 600 players and support staff into quarantine after a worker at one of the designated hotels tested positive.
The Japanese Olympics playbooks essentially regurgitate the rules and advice those organizing the Australian Open put in place, which are the same the world has been given since the pandemic began a year ago: test frequently, wash your hands, keep your distance and isolate if you have symptoms. They are also discouraging chanting, singing, and rooting for athletes during competition.
Given the fact that much of the world is now well into a second wave after following that exact advice, the games may well become the superspreader event everyone fears. Unlike the upcoming Super Bowl in Tampa, which many fear will spike cases in Florida, the Japanese Olympic committee is asking people to provide their own masks. Super Bowl organizers are instead supplying every fan with a KN95 mask, hand sanitizer, and antibacterial wipes. There, the concern is not so much what happens in the stadium, but where people gather before and after the event as well as watch parties in Los Angeles and Tampa that will surely lead to a spike in new cases.
The release of Japan’s safety booklet comes just as organizers admit there is no “Plan B” if last year’s Olympic and Paralympic games can’t be held this summer, insisting that they will go on at all costs. But many of the sponsors are already scaling back advertising campaigns and delaying marketing events as pressure grows on the Japanese government to outline contingency plans if the pandemic is not yet under control. Japan has instituted stricter measures to try to contain the infection ahead of the games.
The playbook, which the Japanese Olympic committee says will be updated in April, gives scant new advice or repeats what is by now well known, including, “The risks of catching COVID-19 grow in crowded poorly-aired spaces and when we spend time in proximity to those carrying COVID-19. That is why it is important to minimize social interaction, wear a mask, and avoid the 3Cs: spaces that are closed, crowded or involve close contact.”
They also warn athletes not to mingle with spectators—even family members, so no hugging mom even if you win a gold medal—and not to use public transportation while in Japan, but to rely on the amenities provided inside the Olympic village bubble. Athletes will also be tested every four days during the games.
The playbook also advises Olympic athletes, who will be assigned liaison officers ahead of the games, to quarantine 14 days prior to traveling to Japan and then to keep their movements limited the first 14 days after they arrive. But advice like, “Move as quickly as possible through the airport. Do not stop to visit any shops or other services, other than the Accreditation Validation Counter” leave much to be desired.
There is no call for athletes and team members to be vaccinated, for instance, which could ensure an even safer event.