Mike Rowbottom

It may be the case that the cardboard beds in the Tokyo 2020 Athletes' Village will not sustain the most ancient activity known to man involving two people. But that was not what they were designed for.

Amid the stories circulating on social media that the beds have been deliberately fashioned to collapse if more than one person gets on them, thus preventing the risk of athletes passing on COVID-19 in intimate clinches, there is a post from my colleague Dan Palmer, who is already resting - occasionally - on a conventional bed in a media hotel.

Dan has posted the link to a story he did for insidethegames in September 2019 reporting that 18,000 beds were being prepared for the Olympic Village made from "high resistance lightweight cardboard" which would be recycled into paper products after the Games.

"This will be the first time in Olympic and Paralympic history that all beds and bedding are made almost entirely from renewable materials," the Tokyo 2020 organisers said.

Critically, the beds were designed to support weights of "up to 200 kilograms". Or, in old imperial terms, well over 31 stones.

Maths was never my strong point but that would surely enable two people, even two shot putters, to safely share a bed should they so desire.

And indeed, as Paul Chelimo, the United States’ Rio 2016 5,000 metres silver medallist whimsically tweeted: "I see no problem for distance runners, even 4 of us can do".

Beds in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Athletes Village are made out of compressed cardboard in order to prevent environmental waste ©Tokyo 2020
Beds in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Athletes Village are made out of compressed cardboard in order to prevent environmental waste ©Tokyo 2020

Meanwhile four-time Olympian and four-time rowing gold medallist Matthew Pinsent has posted: "Its rubbish. The beds are made of cardboard for sustainability reasons. The 'intimacy in the Olympic village' story does the rounds every 2/4 years."

Every Olympics, indeed every major sporting event, is prefaced by a swirl of speculative and often critical stories that, more often than not, are filling the void before action commences.

Some, such as the No Sex Please beds story, collapse. Others have legs.

You can always safely rely on condoms for an Olympics story. Time Magazine, for instance, reported after the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics that the 2,925 athletes from 92 countries who had taken part, a record number for the Winter Games, had also been given a record number of free condoms.

According to local agencies, Olympic athletes in South Korea received 110,000 condoms-– 100,000 from the Barunsengak company and 10,000 from the Korean Association for AIDS protection. That worked out at more than 37 each.

Athletes in Tokyo, arriving no more than five days before their event and departing no later than two days after as the Olympic playbook rules decree, have also been told that, while at the Games, they must "avoid unnecessary forms of physical contact".

So the provision of 150,000 condoms to the 11,000 or so athletes set to process through the Olympic Village in the course of the Games may look, on the face of it, like mixed messaging.

Hundreds of thousands of free condoms have been distributed to athletes since the Seoul 1988 Games to encourage safe sex at a time when - in normal times - robust and healthy specimens from around the world live in each other’s company before, during and after competition.

But the Tokyo 2020 organisers told Reuters that these condoms are not intended for use in the Athletes' Village. They are meant to be taken home and used to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS.

In the current circumstances, the decision taken by Tokyo 2020 organisers to hold events without spectators being present is understandable, if a matter of regret.

I confess that, personally, part of my regret lives in the fact that I will not now be able to witness a sports crowd attempting to carry out the instructions that were being relayed a month ago regarding dos and don’ts.

While the intention was to allow up to 10,000 domestic fans to attend events at the  Games, prospective fans were told they would need to wear masks at all time, to take as direct a route as possible to and from the venue and even to refrain from shouting and cheering.

A condom machine at the Rio 2016 Olympics. The messaging is altered for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics ©Getty Images
A condom machine at the Rio 2016 Olympics. The messaging is altered for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics ©Getty Images

How would that have worked, I wonder?

Sprinters flash across the line and the digital scoreboard tells the story - 9.56sec. Usain Bolt’s 100 metres world record is history.

Polite applause. An undertone of approval. "That was very fast," someone ventures. Quietly.

Under the new arrangements, where all fans will be virtual - rather than virtuous - it will also be possible to "clap virtually". This will be measured and the results displayed in the venues.

This could create a new phenomenon in Olympic sports to mirror the delayed reaction footballers now demonstrate after scoring as they check that VAR is not about to quash their celebration.

In another attempt to bring atmosphere to the enforced emptiness, Games organisers are following the cue of football last year and piping in appropriately modulated crowd noises.

Tokyo 2020 has also announced plans for a project that will allow athletes' family members and fans to send messages during the Olympic and Paralympic Games to be displayed at venues.

It is called Share the Passion. Not to be confused with the other project - Spare the Passion...