Tokyo Olympics, IOC push ahead during state of emergency

A man wearing a protective mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus stands guard near a logo of Tokyo 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo on Feb. 1, 2021. Photo Courtesy: AP

TOKYO (AP): Local organizers and the International Olympic Committee pushed ahead Wednesday with plans to open the postponed Tokyo Olympics in just under three months, unveiling the latest set of rule books to show how the games can be held during a pandemic.

The timing of the second edition of the “Playbooks” is not ideal. The version for Olympic athletes is out Wednesday, with similar guides for other participants out on Friday.

Tokyo, Osaka and several others areas came under a third state of emergency this week, and the death toll in Japan from COVID-19 has passed 10,000. The numbers are good by global standards, but poor compared with other places in Asia such as Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand or South Korea.

The state of emergency has closed department stores, theme parks, and bars and restaurants serving alcohol. It also has forced baseball games to be played in empty stadiums after having allowed fans for much of the pandemic.

Polls consistently show 70-80% in Japan think the Olympics should not be held.

Only 1% of the Japanese population has been vaccinated and that number will still be small when the Olympics open on July 23. So far, officials say Japanese athletes have not been vaccinated.

This contrasts with many of the 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes entering Japan who — encouraged by the IOC — will have shots. As will thousands of judges, officials, sponsors, media and broadcasters.

This version of the Playbooks will offer more details than the first edition in February, but much of the specific planning will remain in flux until the final update comes out in June.

Though vaccines are now available, the strategy for the Olympics is geared around holding the games in a “bubble” as if there were no vaccines.

Organizers are not expected to announce until June if fans will be allowed into venues — and if so, how many. Fans from abroad have already been banned. The decision on venue capacity was promised to come to this month by organizing committee President Seiko Hashimoto, but has been pushed back.

Taro Kono, the minister in charge of vaccination, suggested earlier this month that empty venues seemed likely. Ticket sales were to account for $800 million in revenue.

Organizers are expected to announce daily testing for athletes, up from once every four days in the early edition. They are also expected to drop a 14-day quarantine, allowing athletes to train upon arrival. Athletes will be required to stay in the Olympic Village on Tokyo Bay, and venues and training areas.

Japan’s Kyodo news agency, citing unnamed sources, said athletes and staff will have to be tested twice within 96 hours before leaving home. They will also be tested upon arrival in Japan.

Toshiro Muto, the CEO of the Tokyo organizing committee, said this week that 500 nurses were being requested for the games. Japanese television TBS on Tuesday, without citing a source, said organizers had contacted 30 hospitals to care for athletes who fall ill.

The British Medical Journal earlier this month, under an editorial titled: “Reconsider this Summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games,” said mass gatherings such as the Olympics are still neither “safe nor secure.”

The editorial read in part: “Holding Tokyo 2020 for domestic political and economic purposes — ignoring scientific and moral imperatives — is contradictory to Japan’s commitment to global health and human security.”

The cost of the Olympics is officially $15.4 billion although several government audits suggest it is much larger. All but $6.7 billion is public money.

The IOC depends on selling broadcast rights for 73% of its income, and the postponement has stalled payments. Broadcast income amounted to about $4 billion in the latest four-year Olympic cycle, at least half from the U.S. network NBC.

IOC President Thomas Bach is expected to be in Hiroshima on May 17 to greet the torch relay, although he said last week his plans were still tentative.

Bach’s arrival would come just days after the latest state of emergency ends on May 11. Opposition lawmakers in Japan’s national legislature have suggested Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga scheduled the state of emergency to accommodate Bach.

The torch relay, which began on March 25 in Fukushima in northeastern Japan, has been detoured several times this month and was forced to run in an empty city park in Osaka. It was also rerouted in Matsuyama City Ehime prefecture.

It will be banned altogether this weekend on the Okinawa island of Miyakojima. The small island has only one hospital. The relay will run through other locations on Okinawa.