EXPLAINER

On your marks ... will the Tokyo Olympics go ahead?

Javelin thrower Kelsey-Lee Barber is one of around 70 Australian athletes preparing for the Olympics. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Javelin thrower Kelsey-Lee Barber is one of around 70 Australian athletes preparing for the Olympics. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

We want to see our athletes head to Tokyo to compete and then return to Australia safely.

Health Minister Greg Hunt

A year late, the postponed Olympics in Tokyo are now scheduled from July 23 to August 8. Because of the epidemic, the 2020 games will be held in 2021.

Or will they? The organising committee is going full-steam ahead. The Olympic torch is currently on its 121-day tour around Japan in the hands of 10,000 runners. The President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach said: "Tokyo continues to be the best-prepared Olympic city ever."

But, then again, last year's postponement followed announcements that there would be no postponement.

The situation this year is different, though. We have vaccines, and countries have become expert in dealing with outbreaks. The Australian Open showed how an international tournament can succeed - though the Olympics is a much bigger event.

On the other hand, there is a new wave of infections in Japan.

But much remains to be determined. The Tokyo Olympics has "play books" "to ensure that all Olympic and Paralympic Games participants and the people of Japan stay safe and healthy this summer". One play book has been published but not the final version.

What about the athletes?

That will depend on each country but Australia's contingent will be vaccinated.

The government has decided to move the athletes and support staff up the list and divert thousands of doses to them.

Health minister Greg Hunt said: "We want to see our athletes head to Tokyo to compete and then return to Australia safely."

The Pfizer or AstraZeneca jabs will be given, depending on the age of the athlete. The Pfizer shot is preferred for those under the age of 50.

It is not clear how quarantine on return would operate because of the large number in one mass. The Australian Olympic Committee has called for a "bespoke" system.

France has also decided to give priority to athletes for vaccination.

About 11,000 athletes were expected at the Tokyo Olympics before they were called off last year, and about 4,500 for the Paralympics just after.

The organisers say the numbers haven't dropped. On the latest estimate, they put the number of competitors for the main event at 11,091.

But that could change. North Korea has pulled out because of "Covid concerns" but its contingent was tiny. Will the rampant epidemic in India jeopardise its participation? Some of its sports people, from wrestlers to hockey players, have had the illness.

In the games themselves, there is expected to be daily testing against coronavirus for athletes. They will stay within a "bubble" in the Olympic Village (much the same system was used effectively for the tennis at the Australian Open).

The great unknown is how a year of epidemic and lockdown will affect performance.

International competition has been non-existent. Training regimes have changed, with athletes confined to one country instead of migrating with the seasons to continue training and competing.

Many athletes train in groups, the best against the best, so they stretch themselves over a series of competitions, but that hasn't always been possible.

How will these games be different?

Assuming they really do happen, one big difference is that there will be no spectators from outside Japan.

A month ago, officials said the risk of allowing outsiders in was too great. There had also been opposition from the public in Japan who feared there would be an influx of the virus, with the Olympics as a "super-spreader" event.

"In order to give clarity to ticket holders living overseas and to enable them to adjust their travel plans at this stage, the parties on the Japanese side have come to the conclusion that they will not be able to enter into Japan at the time of the Olympic and Paralympic Games," the Tokyo organising committee said.

About 600,000 tickets had been sold and the organisers promised refunds but it was unclear how that would be worked out with the agencies which sold the tickets and charged a fee for doing so.

Organisers will not decide until June whether to allow Japanese spectators into stadiums. About five million tickets have been sold domestically.

About 10,000 people in the country have died from Covid and only a small proportion of the population (about one per cent on the most recent estimate) has been vaccinated so it would not be surprising if the competitions are held in empty venues.

At capacity, the Tokyo Olympic Stadium holds 68,000 people. Track competitions might look "normal" on television but events demanding a wider camera shot, like the opening and closing ceremonies, would look very different.

What about the sport?

Aside from the Covid arrangements, there are some innovations. Climbing as a sport, skateboarding, surfing and karate will make their first appearance at an Olympic Games. It's been 12 years since baseball was at an Olympics.

Some stats: Eleven medals will be awarded on the first day of action. There will be 34 events on the big Saturday, August 7. All together, 33 sports will be in competition across 42 venues.

All sports will have male and female events, making it, according to the organisers, "the most gender balanced games in history".

And: 6,210,000 old mobile phones were donated to extract the gold, silver and bronze for the medals.

But ...

Don't make plans too firm quite yet.

Don't buy in too much beer. Don't book holidays (or think about sick leave). Don't install a new couch.

The Japanese government and the organisers insist that the Olympics will go ahead.

But they said that last year.

This story On your marks ... will the Tokyo Olympics go ahead? first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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