TOKYO OLYMPICS : New norms Old games
The sporting fraternity is set for a novel experience as Summer Olympics follows other sports to come out of the fog and breathe in the new reality
The new year has started with a flourish for sports lovers around the world. Bio-bubble, social distancing, few spectators, online press conferences and ensuring overall good health are the keys for sporting activities to take place today.
At home, India versus England cricket series, a long one at that, has begun with all security mechanisms in place. Security not of the usual type, but the one to deal with COVID-19 and the new strains in the safest way. By choosing just two venues, Chennai and Ahmedabad, the BCCI may have given convention a huge miss wherein matches would be held at different cricket stadiums. But then, it is easier to handle the bio-bubble at limited venues.
On Monday, the Australian Open, the year's first tennis Grand Slam begins in Melbourne. For a city and a country which places a huge premium on the safety and health of its people, the Aussie borders are still closed to people from overseas. However, by allowing tennis players, coaches, support staff, umpires and others connected with the Australian Open activity to fly in on chartered flights, they have shown a new way. Around a dozen chartered flights flew into Melbourne with over 1,300 people from Dubai and Doha in mid-January. The mandatory and harsh quarantine of 14 days "was killing", say some players. Not just that, even now, they are tested for COVID-19 every second day for safety reasons. Well, this is the new normal where the sports world has learnt to accept repeated testing and staying in a safer zone. Perhaps, the only set of players who were complaining about the frequent testing in Thailand were the Indian badminton players. Thailand has controlled the virus spread well and they left no stone unturned to ensure that players fall in line, last month when they hosted important events.
At home too, apart from cricket, athletics and motorsport activities have resumed, again with safety measures in place. One has to credit JK Tyres and MRF, who are involved in motorsports in a big way, for ensuring that the resumption of activities was glitch-free and championships completed.
By adapting and adjusting to the new norms, or what is called the new normal, preparations are on for staging the Olympics and the Paralympics in Tokyo. The Summer Olympics are scheduled to start on July 23, 2021. Despite the pessimism and negativity being created by sections of the media and Tokyo residents as well through snap surveys, Japan may set a new record by hosting the Games. The numbers involved in staging an Olympics are mind-boggling. Apart from close to 10,000 athletes, there will be support staffs, physios, coaches, officials and many more administrators who will be part of the games. Some will be from within Japan and those coming from overseas have already been told what all rules and regulations they need to follow.
In the last two weeks, the International Olympic Committee, headed by President Thomas Bach, has outlined the measures which will be put in place for staging the Olympics. It would not be an exaggeration to state that the IOC, the organisers in Tokyo and the Japanese Government are working round the clock. Details have been shared with various stakeholders, and what stands out is how every minute detail has been paid attention to. There will be a newness to the Olympics, one may see fewer spectators, less interaction among athletes and the whole city will be even more watchful.
As of today, the plan is that players land in Tokyo five days before their event, compete and leave two days after their event is over. This is a huge departure from the times when athletes spent well over two weeks in the Games Village and had a whale of a time. The focus now is not on partying at the Games but ensuring that maintaining a cap on numbers will help in dealing with the challenges posed by Coronavirus and its mutant strains. High fives, hugs, necking, kissing, all so common amongst athletes, will be restricted. The IOC has already said "a no-sex policy" will be put in place during the Olympics.
This is in sharp contrast to the previous Olympics, where one perpetual story emanating was how maximum condoms were distributed free inside the Athletes Games Village. During the Rio Olympics in 2016, athletes were cautioned they need to be careful about the Zika virus, which was a huge concern then. So, there were restrictions in Rio as well for the athletes. Before leaving for Rio, every participant and the media had to take the yellow fever shot. In addition, anti-malarial medicines were also prescribed before leaving for Rio.
The change from Zika virus to Coronavirus and COVID-19 is huge, yet the global sporting fraternity is hoping the Tokyo Olympics can be pulled off. One has to accept the limitations and perhaps a cap on spectators coming from abroad. Like the Aarogya Setu app in India, Japan is also coming up with its indigenous app to track people all the time. To some, this may seem like a form of huge surveillance but even as the pandemic continues to rage in Britain, Europe, USA, South Africa and other parts of the world, you have to deal with such stringent provisions.
It is well known that quarantine has been used for horses which compete during the Olympics and the Asian Games for several decades. The highly-priced horses are placed in one-month quarantine and it seemed normal as equine flu was very worrisome. In Tokyo, it is not horses alone which will face quarantine! The human athletes will have to face the new challenge. Being healthy and mentally fit has acquired a new dimension. So, it is not dope testing alone which will be there to track athletes.
As regards the opulent opening and closing ceremonies at the Olympics, one may see fewer athletes and officials at the march-past. Social distancing has to be practised and what one will get to see on TV will be so different, come July 23. Like it or lump it!
Views expressed are personal