WHEN the world’s best athletes gather for the Olympics every four years, they do much more than run, jump and swim. In a memoir published after the previous Tokyo Games, in 1964, Dawn Fraser, an Australian swimmer, drew the curtain back to life inside the Olympic bubble. “Olympic morale is far more loose than any outsider might expect,” she wrote. The village’s reputation for infidelity has only grown since. Organizers began distributing condoms to athletes in 1988, apparently to raise awareness of HIV; at the last summer matches in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, they handed out 450,000 record-breaking. As a former Olympic skier said ESPN The magazine, an American sports publication, the Olympic Village is just a magical, adventurous place like “Alice in Wonderland”, where anything is possible. You could win a gold medal and you can sleep with a really hot guy. ”
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At this year’s Olympics, the mood will be gloomier, duller, chaster. For the athletes, life in the village will be rewritten as described in a 70-page prohibition book. They have been asked to arrive in Japan as late as possible (at the earliest five days before the start of their event) and to leave as soon as possible (within two days after the end of their event). They must present negative results in two tests taken during the four days before traveling to Japan, and another negative test result on arrival. Although more than 80% of athletes are expected to be vaccinated, they will undergo daily tests where a confirmed case leads to possible disqualification. Masks will be mandatory except when sleeping, eating and competing, which means athletes will be required to wear them even if they are training in the Olympic Village fitness centers and if they reach that far while standing on the podiums to receive their medals. They are not allowed to go anywhere except to their accommodation and competition venues. All meals must be eaten quickly and without interfering in the village cafeteria. Alcohol is not served in the village and it is forbidden to drink in groups or in public areas.
The athletes will not be the only ones locked down. The Japanese government has declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures to last until August 22, long after the end of the Olympics. The government does not have the authority to restrict public movements, but other restrictions will put a damper on any party: restaurants are asked to close at. 20 and do not serve alcohol; residents are encouraged to avoid “non-essential” excursions.
There will be no viewing parties; a promenade near the Olympic village, which had been imagined as a fierce fan zone, is closed. Tokyoites have been asked to enjoy the game on TV from their home. Almost all events are held without fans, foreign or domestic. “It will feel very jarring,” said Sakaue Yasuhiro of Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo: “People are being asked not to go out, not to meet, not to drink. children’s sports days are canceled – and yet a global sporting event is ahead. ”
The distortions are the price of the staging of the games despite the pandemic, a condition that the government’s chief medical adviser, Omi Shigeru, has called “abnormal”. Although Japan’s vaccination campaign has increased after a slow start, only 21% of the population is fully vaccinated. Prices are much higher among the elderly (about 75% of Tokyoites over the age of 65 have received at least one jab), leading to a drop in deaths and seriously ill patients in the capital. Nevertheless, Tokyo registered 1,149 new cases on July 14, the highest number since January. The spread of the more contagious Delta variant worries medical experts. Christian Tagsold from Düsseldorf University disagrees that the circumstances of these Olympics commemorate “Akira”, a cult-Japanese manga and anime from the 1980s, depicting a post-apocalyptic “Neo Tokyo” hosting the 2020 Olympics.
Organizers admit that it will be impossible to control the virus completely. A handful of athletes and officials arriving early have already tested positive. Authorities hope instead to avoid an Olympic outbreak. This will require compliance not only from athletes but from 53,000 officials, staff and press expected to participate. They will be bound by a “written promise” but will be subject to less drastic sanctions for misconduct than those athletes at risk of disqualification. Many worry that they will be less obedient than the Japanese public, who have been inclined to listen to government requests.
This fear was reinforced this week when four foreigners working for a subcontractor at a location were arrested on suspicion of cocaine use in a nightlife district far from the Olympic facilities. Pandemic or not, the Olympics will be a temptation for some to party. This may be one of the reasons why the organizers returned to the plans to distribute condoms in the village this year. Instead, athletes only receive their prophylactic conditions when they leave Japan. ■
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This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the heading “No fun and games”