The 2021 Olympics were always going to look a lot different but this latest news will be a blow to athletes everywhere.
Tokyo was supposed to host the Games this year but because of COVID-19, things were pushed back 12 months. There will be plenty of social distancing and hygiene restrictions in place and those taking centre stage have been dealt a hammer blow to their Olympic experience.
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Rather than hanging around in the Athletes Village after their own events are over, sportsmen and women will be encouraged to leave as soon as possible.
Obviously competition is fierce but the Games are also one big party, with athletes letting their hair down once their jobs are done and mingling with friends and foes alike.
Not next year, though, says International Olympic Committee President John Coates, with athletes not permitted to stay in the Village for the duration of the Games after their event is over.
“The athletes, once their competition finishes, will have one day, two days and then they will go home,” he said at a briefing this week.
“Staying longer in the village increases the potential for problems.
“We have to make sure that the Olympic village is … the safest place in Tokyo.
“The athletes have to have confidence in the safety of that.”
This means the wild stories of years gone by are likely to be absent in Tokyo.
As AP reported during the Rio Olympics in 2016, life in the Village can change dramatically once the fight for medals is done.
“It makes for an interesting dichotomy in the athletes village … while many there are still trying to keep a sharp focus, others are in vacation mode,” the publication reported.
In 2012, ESPN’s Sam Alipour’s feature quoted numerous Olympians — such as American target shooter Josh Lakatos — who spilt the beans on the sex and partying that takes place for athletes when their events are done.
“Lakatos didn’t want to leave. He knew from his experience four years earlier in Atlanta (1996), where he’d won silver, that the Olympic Village was just about to erupt into a raucous party, and there was no way he was going to miss it,” Alipour wrote.
Lakatos recalled of the 2000 Sydney Games: “Swear to God, the entire women’s 4×100 relay team of some Scandinavian-looking country walks out of the house, followed by boys from our side. And I’m just going, ‘Holy crap, we’d watched these girls run the night before’.”
Tales like these will be hard to come by if athletes are forced to leave the Village earlier than ever. Maybe the giant supply of condoms that accompanies every Olympics will be slashed next year too.
Tokyo’s opening ceremony will also be a different affair. Only athletes and a maximum of six officials from each country will be permitted to march, cutting down the size of many delegations.
But will the new regulations work? International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons certainly believes so.
“I am absolutely sure that people will play by the rules and respect whatever guidelines are put in place,” Parsons said.
“Every stakeholder involved in the Olympics and Paralympics understands the importance.”
VIRUS VACCINE NOT COMPULSORY
Athletes won’t be required to take a coronavirus vaccine to compete at the Tokyo Olympics, IOC chief Thomas Bach said, adding that mandatory shots would be “going too far”.
Bach, who is in Tokyo to bolster confidence in the pandemic-postponed event, said taking a vaccine would be a “free decision” for athletes and others involved in the Games.
“There are too many issues to consider. This is a question of private health,” the International Olympic Committee president said, during a tour of the Olympic Village.
“It is a question also of (the) health conditions of each and every person. It’s a question of availability.”
However, the IOC will “appeal” to athletes and others to be vaccinated, Bach added, calling it a “sign of respect” for other competitors and the Japanese hosts.
Bach and Japanese organisers have sounded a confident note that the event will go ahead — buoyed by recent positive vaccine trials and a successful international gymnastics event in Tokyo this month.
Bach said the organising committee would take “all the necessary precautionary measures, so that athletes can relax and feel safe”.
On Monday, he said the IOC would look to help athletes secure shots if they are available and approved.
Australian Health Minister Health Greg Hunt said Tuesday the IOC had reassured him “they have moved to secure vaccines for all athletes and officials who would be attending from around the world”.
“So our expectation is that there will be vaccines for all athletes from all nations and all officials from all nations, and they’ll be well and truly ready long in advance of the Olympic Games.”