Will the Tokyo Olympics happen? When I mention the Games to people at the moment, they split into three groups.
Those with nothing to do with professional sport tend to say something like: “What? The Olympics are really happening? When?”
People who work in top-level sport or an adjacent profession, but who aren’t attending Tokyo, are more along the lines of: “Do you really think it’ll happen?”
And then there are those who are going to Tokyo or who hope to, pending selection. Among that group there is no doubt that we’ll be in Japan come July.
When will I know it’s really happening? When I’m on the plane, I guess. But I think it’ll happen now. I made a commitment to it over the weekend in an online shopping spree – I could see my summer work wardrobe was going to be put under severe stress by dressing in Tokyo for 18 days. There are restrictions on where journalists can eat during the Games – I can’t see the organisers prioritising enabling us to do our laundry.
I remember the intense relief of getting out of the airport at the Rio Olympics five years ago. Of meeting fellow H&H journalists Alice Collins and Peter Nixon and having our “pre-valid cards” validated to turn them into full accreditations. We were on the way to the biggest adventure of our lives.
That relief will be nothing compared to getting to the same point in Tokyo. There is, not surprisingly, a lot of extra administration around an Olympics which has been delayed a year and which is now running during a global pandemic. I have five logins for five different systems for Tokyo, with a sixth pending. I rarely miss a deadline or an email, but I am terrified I’ve forgotten to fill in a vital form which will result in us being turned away.
And then there’s testing for Covid, which has become routine for so many of us. But taking the Tokyo tests will be different. Two tests for each journalist before leaving and then a test again on arrival. That half hour of waiting at Haneda airport to be allowed to go on to the next stage – or to be sent to self-isolate in a hotel for two weeks, presumably, if one tests positive – will be somewhat stressful, I imagine.
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A sports journalist’s career is built around the Olympic cycle, nearly as much as an athlete’s, and I would be gutted if Tokyo cancelled now, on so many levels – gutted for the riders, mostly, but also for myself and for my colleague Polly Bryan, for whom this is a precious first Olympics.
But the prospect of the Games is daunting. Take transport. I chose a hotel which is a 20-minute train ride from the equestrian venue, way back in 2019 when no one had heard of Covid. Now, we cannot use public transport, so – assuming the Olympics will not lay on transport from every hotel to every venue – it’s likely we will have to catch an official bus to the Main Press Centre and back out to our venue, a journey which looks like around 90 minutes each way. I know I’m lucky and this is an opportunity so many would love to have, but I also know late night finishes and jetlag added to three hours on a bus each day will be challenging.
Tokyo will take all the championship unknowns and multiply them – for everyone concerned.
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