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Covid shadow continues to loom over Tokyo Olympics as athletes flout playbook rules

Pakistani flag-bearers marching without wearing masks during the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games opening ceremony on Friday

After watching several athletes and officials from Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan blatantly flout the Covid-19 protocol in place at the Tokyo Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has warned of a strict action – which in future could even lead to disciplinary measures – if anyone is found breaking the rules mentioned in the Games' Playbook.

The Playbooks, developed jointly by Tokyo 2020, the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) in close collaboration with the Government of Japan and Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG), outline the responsibilities of all Games participants and the rules that must be followed to ensure that everyone, including the people of Japan, stay safe and healthy.

The Japanese government has already announced a state of emergency in Tokyo with an aim to suppress the flow of people and prevent the spread of Covid-19 infection.

However, in spite of the Games being held under the shadow of Covid-19, the opening ceremony on Friday saw athletes and officials from Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan parading without wearing masks which invited massive criticism.  

While Pakistani flag-bearers, pistol shooter Khalil Akhtar and badminton player Mahoor Shahzad, were spotted without masks in the opening ceremony broadcast live in all time zones worldwide, only a single athlete in the Kyrgyz marching contingent was seen covering his face.

The organising authorities have repeatedly said that the success of these Games depends on every single individual taking responsibility for following the Playbook at all times. It describes countermeasures to create a safe Games environment for all participants and also offers an additional layer of protection for the hosts, the residents of Japan.

It states that masks have to be worn at all times, in all locations of venues, with the exception of training, competing, eating, drinking or during interviews in Tokyo. It also advises to keep two metres' distance from athletes and at least one metre from others, including in operational spaces. Even the athlete flows are being organised so that they do not cross with others unless unavoidable for operational purposes, in which case additional countermeasures will be in place, such as managed crossings.

"It is really important that we go on message constantly to remind people how important it is to follow the social distancing rules, to use hand gels and wear masks. This was repeated to the Chefs de Mission and we will continue to repeat this. If you have blatant behaviours that are absolutely unbearable, we will definitely take action but it starts with informing and repeating this information so we don’t see too many people without masks," said Christophe Dubi, the IOC Executive Director for the Olympic Games, on Saturday.

Dubi avoided mentioning the marching contingents which breached rules on Friday but said that Chefs de Mission of teams have been reminded about the measures in place.

Earlier this week, during his keynote speech at the 138th IOC Session in Tokyo, the World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had said that he had come to the "global mountaintop" with a message for the world’s people to hear that it should stand united on doing everything that can be done to triumph over the pandemic, with determination, dedication and discipline.

"In the time it takes me to make these remarks, more than 100 people will lose their lives to Covid-19. And by the time the Olympic flame is extinguished on the 8th of August, more than 100,000 more people will perish," said the WHO boss insisting that WHO has played its part by providing technical advice to the IOC and Japan during the preparations for the Games.

"Over the next two weeks, and for the Paralympic Games next month, those plans and precautions will be put to the test. It is my sincerest hope that they succeed – not only for the sake of the games themselves, and the safety of the athletes, trainers and officials – but as a demonstration of what is possible with the right plans and the right measures," he added.

It is certainly being put to a big test as the organising committee reported a total of 10 new infections related to the Olympics today, including the first post-competition Covid-19 case as Dutch rower Finn Florijn tested positive after competing in his heat on Friday.  

"The Olympic organizing committee said it is working to determine whether anyone has been in close contact with Florijn, who they previously said was unable to row for medical reasons. A separate member of the Dutch rowing team, not an athlete, tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday," reported Japanese national daily Mainichi

Clearly, not everyone is following the measures documented in the Playbook which are based on latest scientific evidence, expert advice and lessons from other international events.

Also Read: To Tokyo, via Iran and Switzerland — the inspiring journey of an Afghan refugee to Olympics