TORONTO — The Olympics begin in Tokyo next week, and the competition will be historic — and strange — for a number of reasons.
The Olympics were set to occur in 2020 before they were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic raging across the globe. Although the situation has been shifting week to week, with spectators being banned earlier this month at most venues and Japan entering a state of emergency due to a rise in COVID-19 cases, the Olympics seem to still be on track to begin next week, with opening ceremonies planned for Friday.
But this year’s Olympics will be very different from usual, from athletes having their movements hemmed in by strict rules to medal ceremonies where medals are on a tray.
Here are some of the ways that the Olympics will differ this year:
A LACK OF SPECTATORS
A few months ago, the plan was for 10,000 Japanese fans per venue to be permitted to attend the Olympic events in person, with only overseas spectators banned. But as COVID-19 cases rose in Tokyo, where the majority of events are being held, officials made the decision to ban all spectators.
A state of emergency was declared in Tokyo on July 9, and officials announced that no spectators would be permitted into any Tokyo venues or regions close to the city. Hokkaido and Fukushima prefectures announced that no spectators would be allowed at events held in those regions as well.
According to CNN, Japanese Olympic Committee Seiko Hashimoto said last week that Miyagi, Fukushima and Shizuoka prefectures would be permitted to allow spectators at 50 per cent capacity, with a maximum of 10,000 spectators.
The Olympic Committee has also asked for the public to stay away from the official route of marathon and race walk events that are occurring in Sapporo. Spectators will also be barred from Musashinonomori Park, where cycling road events will begin.
NO TOURISM FOR ATHLETES
Although athletes are always focused on performing their best at the Olympics, there is usually a little bit of fun in visiting another country and interacting with other top-level athletes. However, this year, athletes received a detailed playbook full of rules intended to keep athletes safe and ensure the games don’t turn into a COVID-19 superspreader event.
Athletes must wear masks and practice physical distancing at all times, with “hugs, high-fives and handshakes” discouraged. They are not permitted on public transport unless it is the only option to reach certain venues, and athletes must follow an “Action Plan” that shows what activities they will be doing at permitted locations related to the Olympic Games.
Specifically, athletes are not allowed to “walk around the city, and visit tourist areas, shops, restaurants or bars, gyms, etc.” according to the playbook.
The athletes will not be able to hang around after their event is done either. Athletes and “sport-specific team officials” are required to leave Japan no later than 48 hours after their competition has been completed or after they have been eliminated, if they do not make it until the end of the competition.
MEDALS ON A TRAY
This week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed that there would be a significant change to the medal ceremonies this year: athletes will be placing medals around their own necks.
Usually, an IOC member or another official would place the medals around the necks of the winning athletes. But this year, the winners of each event will be presented with medals on a tray, and the athletes will pick up their medal and put it on themselves.
This is different than how some sporting events held during the pandemic have handled the issue. At the Euro Cup recently, the Union of European Football Associations president Aleksander Ceferin hung medals around the players’ necks himself.
Several high profile athletes — as well as an entire country — will not be competing in the Olympics this year.
North Korea announced in April that it would not be sending athletes to Tokyo to compete. The decision was made out of fear that athletes might contract COVID-19, according to the Associated Press.
Serena Williams said at the end of June that she would not be attending the Olympics this year.
Roger Federer also confirmed that he would not be at the Olympics this summer, citing a knee injury that he tweaked at Wimbledon.
Other tennis stars, such as Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem and Nick Kyrgios will not be at the Olympics, with Kyrgios referencing the lack of spectators as part of the decision.
Canadian star Bianca Andreescu announced earlier this week that she would be pulling out of the games due to “all the challenges we are facing as it relates to the pandemic.” Fellow Canadian Denis Shapovalov withdrew in June, saying it was the “best decision for everyone’s safety.”
Several NBA stars have confirmed that they will not be competing in the Olympics, such as LeBron James and Serbian player Nikola Jokic, who won the most valuable player award recently.
Samoa also decided not to permit its weightlifting team to attend the Olympics out of COVID-19 fears. The weightlifting team is based in Samoa, but other Samoan athletes who are based internationally will be permitted to compete.