H&H Olympic reporter’s blog: ‘I never thought access would be dependent on my spit quality…’

  • Pippa Roome has made it to Tokyo as one of H&H’s team on the ground at the Olympics – she reports on what awaits athletes and everyone else attending the Games on touchdown at the airport…

    At some point last night, lying sleepless under an aeroplane blanket somewhere over the edge of the Arctic Circle, I worked out that the Tokyo Olympics is my 10th championship – senior Europeans, World Championships and Olympics – as a journalist.

    I was, though, thinking that with some trepidation. Because arriving at Haneda airport this morning with my colleagues Polly Bryan and Peter Nixon to go through the Tokyo Olympics immigration procedures felt like sitting a test that I had been preparing for for months, even years.

    Did I have all the right Covid tests? Had I got the right paperwork to prove it? Had I downloaded all the relevant apps to be let into Japan?

    I’m delighted to report that sitting the test was surprisingly uneventful – and quicker than I had been expecting. We made it from our plane touching down to being spat out into the humid air to board a media transport bus in a total of three hours.

    There were a good few athletes on our flight – no riders (or at least none we recognised), but with a change at Helsinki in our schedule, we had competitors from countries such as Latvia and Estonia as well as Finland alongside us. We spent a good bit of time trying to guess each person’s sport, based on physique.

    On arrival, the passengers who were nothing to do with the Olympics disembarked first and then the Olympic personnel. We were ushered through a lengthy series of checks where one would hove up to a desk, work out which of your 32 pieces of paper (no exaggeration, I just counted) was required by a mix of looking at signs, squinting at what other people were presenting and prompts from the official. The official would then quietly take a look, perhaps write something on one of the papers, tap tap away at a computer and send you on your way. Everyone was calm, thorough and friendly.

    We knew of course that we’d be Covid tested on arrival and at one point we were each presented with a little tube and a funnel. In the next room, individual cubicles were set up – you went in and found directions about spitting into the funnel. There was a whole list of ways to get this wrong, ranging from the obvious (too little spit, food in it) to the less obvious – I was quite concerned I might be turned away because my spit was “full of bubble”.

    Turning in our spit, it was on via another official at a desk to a big holding room, where everyone waited until their test number came up on a screen. Peter, our photographer, said it was like waiting for A Level results. But we all passed with flying colours.

    Around this point, two hours in, we suddenly found ourselves back at the point where we’d first entered the airport. Oh. We’d completed the Covid measures. Now we were doing the normal airport arrival stuff – immigration, baggage reclaim, customs – with one special extra: accreditation validation.

    Olympic accreditations are sent out as a card within a little folder, unlaminated. This is officially called a PVC (pre-valid card) and it acts as one’s visa to enter the country. On arrival, it’s laminated and put on a lanyard. It is a magic moment for anyone at the Games to be given that full-on accreditation back and place it round your neck.

    Off the back of very little sleep, there were some oddly emotional moments mixed into the practicalities of today. The delay to this Games and the difficulties in moving round the world in a pandemic mean it is extra special actually to be here, although we know it won’t be a normal Olympic experience.

    So now what? Three days of quarantine await us. Roll on Uber Eats, hotel room workouts and Friday, when we’ll be released and off to the equestrian venue in time for the dressage trot-up.


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