CHENNAI: The Indian wrestling team have decided to put their on-site plans on hold apropos the Olympics. They had earlier planned to stay in a hotel near the competition venue (Makuhari Messe in Chiba prefecture) as it is far away from the Athletes Village.
They had blocked tickets early last year before deciding to pay for the hotel rooms around April. However, after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) pushed back the Olympics to 2021, they had blocked for the same dates a year. Now, those plans have effectively been put on hold.
"The idea is to stay in a hotel near the venue is very much what we want but the plans have been put on hold," a JSW Sports (they manage many of the country's elite athletes) spokesperson told this daily. "To be very honest, there isn't much clarity. Till such time, we have decided to put some of our acclimatisation and other plans on hold. "
There is also the question of IOC allowing the contingent to stay outside the Village in a bio-bubble like setting.
That's not all. A few Japanese cities had come forward to host teams for pre-Olympic camps. Now, those cities have to undergo stringent Covid-19 protocols if they are to 'host' Olympic teams. For example, India's archery contingent had decided to go for a pre-Olympics camp in Kurobe, a city in Toyama Prefecture.
According to new rules, if Kurobe wants to host the Indian contingent, the city is 'required by the central government to compile Covid-19 countermeasure guidelines that must be followed by local authorities and overseas visitors, including how to provide transport for athletes and take anti-virus steps at training facilities', according to Kyodonews, a Japanese publication.
The change in rules is all linked to the country's recent spike in new Covid-19 cases. In the last week itself, Tokyo has set two new records (949 new infections on December 26 followed by 1,337 new cases on December 31).
New rules on foreign nationals
In fact, the spike has forced the government to pass short-term regulations limiting the arrival of foreign nationals. On December 28, the government announced a new directive banning the entry of most non-resident foreign nationals till the end of January. There is even a caveat for resident foreign nationals, with a two-week self isolation procedure to be followed upon re-entry. The same law is applicable to athletes, according to Kyodonews.
"The Japanese government," they reported, "has decided to suspend special entry conditions for athletes and team staff from countries and regions where new, potentially more infectious variants of the coronavirus have been found, sources with knowledge of the matter said on Tuesday. The government has already notified the Japanese Olympic Committee and other bodies likely to be impacted by the changes, according to the sources."
The latest slew of regulations is a consequence of the virus putting a strain on the country's health care system. It's also partly to do with a new virus variant that was detected there last week. Under the government's official stop covid website the Medical System Provisions show the 'system is under strain'.
State of emergency soon?
Alarmingly, Japan could even consider declaring a state of emergency if the trends don't come down. On Wednesday, Yasutoshi Nakamura, the man responsible for the country's coronavirus response, said they could consider an emergency if things don't improve. He 'made the remark on Twitter but did not specify which areas of the country may be affected', according to NHK, a public broadcaster. "The government may look at declaring a state of emergency to protect people's lives if the coronavirus continues to spread," he had said according to a translator.
However, he also said that the country remained determined to host the Olympics. That's of course been the stance of the IOC as well as the new Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga. the PM, in fact, said Japan hosting the Games will be 'proof that humanity has defeated the pandemic'. He made that speech to the United Nations in September.
However, things are vastly different now in Japan even if several countries have started vaccinations. On Friday, Tokyo had a further 783 new cases of Covid-19, their eighth-largest single-day increase since the pandemic began.
Throw in the fact that Japan will not begin inoculations at least till February — "we have already developed an arrangement for starting vaccinations as soon as approval is given by the authorities. All the necessary data will be in hand by February for the evaluation of the vaccine efficacy," Suga had said when asked about vaccinating the public last week — and the questions will continue to linger in the air for some time.