2018 Track competition. Photo credit: Johnathan Chng on Unsplash

Tokyo Olympic officials get more aggressive in slowing down COVID-19 as Olympics finish its first day of competition

COVID-19 protocols increase on Day 1 of Olympics to hopefully slow down infection rates in the Olympic bubble, and in Tokyo.

Four-time grand slam tennis champion, Naomi Osaka, representing her mother country, Japan, proudly lit the Olympic cauldron to officially open the Games of the XXXII Olympiad. Though the Haitian-Japanese star who rocked red braids for the ceremony said it was the “the greatest athletic achievement and honor I will ever have in my life,” it was to a near-empty Tokyo stadium.

Along with masked competitors, as well as some athletes, like the U.S. gymnastic teams opting to carry out their own parade separate from the formal procession, the Olympic games in the era of COVID-19 shifts the competition to fighting the novel coronavirus collectively. So far, 24 athletes from ten countries have been forced to drop out due to testing positive with COVID-19 while in Japan. Included in the numbers is the young blooming tennis player, Coco Gauff.

“I am so disappointed to spread the news,” said Gauff who had just played in the Wimbledon several weeks prior. 

While Gauff hoped that she would have a chance to play, like the other two dozen athletes, her dreams to compete were cut short and swift. Gauff’s departure is one of the measures that Tokyo gaming officials are sticking to in their efforts to ramp up protocols and restrictions to deal with the increasing numbers of Olympic-related infections. Since July 1, COVID-positive tests have reached 106 according to Sports Illustrated. These numbers include trainers, coaches and other staff along with athletes.

Even though vaccines were not mandated for the games, the protocol for the games includes aggressive testing procedures that include multiple COVID tests and competing in a bubble. However, the U.S. gymnastic team decided to stay in a nearby hotel rather than the traditional Athlete Village where 11,000 athletes are housed. 

“We know it isn’t ideal for the Olympic experience but nothing is ideal during a pandemic,” tweeted former Olympian and World Champions Centre program director, Cecile Landi.

Like most sports competitions, in the Olympics where some of the world’s top-trained performers push their bodies to the limit, there is sweat, spit, and even sometimes blood in activities that require physical and non-physical contact. Indeed, there will be COVID-19 numbers as it is happening in the rest of the world. 

However, athletes contracting COVID is one thing, but the worry is the games becoming a super-spreader. In other cases, the spike impacts competitors who do not test positive, but were in harm’s way. Days before the games started, six British athletes and two of their trainers went into self isolation because they were exposed. This also happened with the South African soccer team after two of their players tested positive shortly after arriving in Tokyo.

The Games must go on

Yet and still, playing after recovering from a pandemic is nothing new. The planned 1918 Olympics were postponed until 1920 after the worldwide Spanish flu resulted in an estimated 50 million people dying from the infectious disease. The world, also disjointed by war and extreme poverty, held the games in Belgium city of Antwerp.

While the games highlighted men of means who could afford to sojourn to Europe for Olympic games that still only featured male-athletes, the Tokyo games shows Japan already losing an estimated $2 billion in the delays and the extra precautions that were put into place. When Japan announced that it would proceed with the competition, one year after its original date, many disagreed with the idea, even the majority of Japanese residents.

However, Japan powers forward in spite of its opposition. “For many cities and many countries, it is a money hemorrhaging endeavor, and it’s looking like for Tokyo may potentially be the same thing,” said Lake Forest College’s Robert Baade, who studies the economics of professional sports.

The pocket watch will show if Japan made back some coin, or if this was a financial bust. Moreover, the the health of athletes and Tokyo are the center of this bold endeavor.

Kaia Shivers covers news, features and the diaspora.

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