The International Olympic Committee will not require vaccines for athletes, media and other accredited officials traveling to the Olympic and Paralympic Summer Games but has begun to outline how those groups will be tested and monitored for COVID-19 during the events in Tokyo.
The IOC and Tokyo 2020 have released the first of four “playbooks” with initial details of the COVID-mitigation plan, spelling out what will be required of international federation representatives and technical officials, including judges and referees, during the Games. While playbooks for athletes, broadcast media and accredited press will be released in coming days, the IF playbook is expected to be an indication of what the IOC will require for anyone traveling to Tokyo. Updates to the documents are expected in April and June, although the first version highlights the baseline measures the IOC and Tokyo 2020 intend to take.
“We have learned a lot from the best practices of other events and the playbooks reflect what we have seen across many other sports,” said Christophe Dubi, the IOC’s Olympic Games Executive Director, during a briefing on the first release.
IF officials and referees will be asked to begin their journey to the Games 14 days in advance by monitoring their temperature and health daily. They will then require proof of a negative test within 72 hours of leaving for Japan via a PCR, LAMP or antigen test; a negative test at the airport in Tokyo upon arrival; and a negative test before departure to their home country. The group has also been advised not to take public transportation while in Tokyo and will have to provide an activity log outlining where they intend to be at all times and who they plan to be in contact with for contact tracing purposes. While it may be less of a concern for officials and judges, the playbook also notes that athletes should be supported by clapping, not by singing or chanting, which may factor into future recommendations for spectators if they are allowed.
A page from the playbook for international federations and technical officials outlining what will be required of their time in Japan for the Olympic and Paralympic Summer Games.
Other requirements include the types of measures people around the world have been asked to take to prevent the spread of the disease: facial coverings, hand washing, social distancing. IF officials have been advised in the playbook to bring more masks than they think are necessary, noting that hot and humid conditions in Tokyo during the summer may require the need for more regular replacement.
While details of the athlete requirements were not released, IOC officials said that group can expect to be tested every four days during their stay. Others will be tested regularly as well depending on their roles. A smartphone application will also be administered for health monitoring and contact tracing.
“There will be a number of constraints and conditions that participants will have to respect and follow, which will have an impact on their experience, particularly the social experience of what we know an Olympic Games can be,” said Pierre Ducrey, Olympic Games operations director.
Meanwhile, vaccines, will not be required for those stakeholders traveling to Tokyo, although the IOC encourages all stakeholders to receive the vaccine when they are available in their home countries. The mere possibility of vaccines has also given the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee confidence they can proceed with the Games in a way that wasn’t possible one year ago when the decision was made to postpone both events to 2021.
“In February 2020, vaccines were a distant hope,” said Craig Spence, chief brand officer for the IPC. “In February 2021, they are a reality.”
The efforts, the IOC said, are of course aimed at those that may travel to the Games, but also to reassure the Japanese public that measures are being taken to limit any potential spread from visitors. Recent polling has shown the majority of Japanese citizens are no longer in favor of hosting the events this summer.
And in perhaps a telling sign, the IOC has no immediate plans to issue a playbook or guidance for overseas spectators. While the IOC and Tokyo organizers have been resolute in their determination and public affirmations of holding the Olympics, they have been notably less so about the subject of having fans at the events. Mitt Romney and Sebastian Coe, both of whom have previously organized Olympic Games, have recommended that there be nobody in the stands.
Dubi said it’s still early to tell whether spectators will be permitted and that a decision is several weeks away at a minimum. Among the factors that will go into that decision will be the COVID situation on the ground in Tokyo in the weeks to come. “At no way do we want the Games to take precedence (over health),” he said. “How do we use the resources available to make it safe for the Japanese people and those visiting. That’s really important to strike that balance.”
In any scenario, the IOC and Tokyo officials have made it clear they still intend to move forward with the event. The amount of debate over whether the Games would occur this summer has seemed to frustrate both the IOC and Tokyo organizers — regardless of who raises the doubts. That lent itself to an extraordinary moment on Tuesday when the president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee, Yoshiro Mori, said, “No matter what situation would be with the coronavirus, we will hold the Games. We should pass on the discussion of whether we will hold the games or not, but instead discuss how we should hold it” while talking to lawmakers of his own political party. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Tuesday extended for another month a state of emergency order for Tokyo, which many in the country believe is to continue a push to decrease cases ahead of the Olympics.
“The Canadian Olympic Committee has confidence that the Games can be staged safely and successfully given what has been learned in sport over the last several months and the emphasis the IOC and Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee have placed on COVID-19 countermeasures,” Canadian Olympic Committee CEO David Shoemaker said in a statement that surely resonates throughout the IOC community since it was the first country in 2020 to announce that it would not send athletes to Tokyo.
And while most professional leagues in the United States and even beyond have seen the extension of the pandemic cut even more into their bottom lines because of the revenue that is generated from fans via ticket sales, merchandise and food and drinks purchased at games, the IOC and Olympics are perhaps uniquely insulated from that being a big financial impact. Worldwide broadcast rights of the Games account for 73 percent of the IOC’s revenues but within that is a major caveat; according to Bloomberg, Olympics broadcasters such as NBC only make up to 10 percent of their payments before the Games with the majority of the rights fees being delivered after the Games are completed.
IOC President Thomas Bach has insisted throughout the spring that “there is no Plan B” when it comes to the torch being lit on July 23. It is important to note, though, that he said the same thing in March 2020 and within a week the IOC postponed the Games for the first time in modern history.