<I>By Miran Kondric, ITTF Sports Science and Medical Committee Chair</i>
The organizers have made a commitment to deliver these games and show the world the strength of the sport which could help people overtake the current situation initiated with the virus.
Japan has had a reputation of being at the forefront of technological development. Whether that be with the hi-tech industry, entertainment, or medical research, the Japanese are always looking to present innovations. This is also the case in the current situation, where all the world is facing the fear of virus spread, but Japanese organizers are searching for the best possible fight against the virus and a safe environment for all the participants of the Tokyo 2020 Games.
Tokyo 2020 Games have been postponed, but table tennis has had a successful test event in November 2019. Twelve of the strongest national associations, in each of the men’s and women’s competitions, have battled for glory at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, which is also the venue for this year’s big event. Even though games have been postponed nothing changes in the preparation of the organizer for the table tennis event at the Games. Table tennis is one of 33 sports that will be presented at the games and for the first time, we will have a Mixed event in our schedule.
Still, a lot of attention will be focused on safety measurements against virus spread. ITTF Sports Science and Medical Committee has been an active player in the Games preparation. Since 2014 there have been organized yearly meetings with JTTA Sports Science and Medicine Committee during which also medical officers of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee have presented solutions on best possible health care of table tennis players and accompanying staff.
Recent activities are now much more focused on safety measurements and reorganization on previous set schedules and activities. In 2019 during the table tennis test event, there were no additional requests regarding medical services, but today’s situation changes due to the Covid-19 situation.
Recently the IOC has published a series of Playbooks as it fights to keep the Olympic Games possible. According to organizers athletes will also have to use a health reporting smartphone app during the 14 days before they travel, logging their daily body temperature and any possible COVID-19 symptoms. The data will be shared with Japanese authorities. According to the Tokyo 2020 organizers, athletes will also have to register their travel, accommodation, and planned activities for the first 14 days in Japan. This is very important information for all those teams who will organize their preparation camps in front of the games in Japan.
All aspects of Covid-19 countermeasures at the OG and POG are carefully scanned by the organizers and IOC medical staff (Fifth coordination meeting for COVID-19 countermeasures at the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020). There will be a lot of people coming from all over the world, and it will be difficult – but not impossible – to make a condition that they are safe. Tokyo 2020 organizers have published the first set of rules to ensure that Games can go ahead, on the so called “Playbooks”.
One of the most important messages of the current Playbooks is that athletes traveling to Japan for the Tokyo Olympic Games won’t need to quarantine for 14 days on arrival as was initially feared. Athletes will only need to confirm a negative COVID-19 PCR test 72-hours before flying to ensure they can compete.
The Playbook recommends a lot of hygiene protocols which already have been presented at previous coordination meetings for COVID-19 countermeasures at the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. The heavily illustrated document presents out some specifics about what athletes and other participants would have to do ahead of their arrival in Tokyo. Restrictions for those with symptoms will be strictly followed by the proposed regulations. Athletes will have their temperature checked before entering the Olympics with those showing a 37.5°C or higher temperature not permitted to enter the venues. Anyone who comes into close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case will have to undergo testing and will be held in a designated area until the result of the test will be officially announced.
IOC Playbook warns all the participants: “Your compliance with such rules and instructions is key to successfully achieve our common objective to ensure that the health of all the participants to the Olympic and Paralympic Games is protected and that the Games are safely staged. Non-respect of the rules contained in this Playbook may expose you to consequences that may have an impact on your participation in the Olympic and Paralympic Games, your access to Games venues, and, in some cases, on your participation to competitions”.
Recently there has been much debate about vaccination and the ITTF Sports Science and Medical Committee provided a statement on this question: ITTF SSMC statement on vaccination.
There is a clear message in the Playbook: “You will not be required to have received a vaccine in order to participate in the Games – and all of the rules outlined in this Playbook will apply, whether or not you have received the vaccine”.
There still hasn’t been an official word on spectators, but Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto said last month a decision would be made “in the spring.”
Prof. Miran Kondric, PhD
Chairman of the ITTF Sports Science and Medical Committee