Liam Morgan

Abhorrent behaviour from officials involved in the Opening Ceremony, a significant data breach and a missing Ugandan weightlifter have all tried, but the COVID-19 pandemic has still dominated the headlines in the week before Tokyo 2020 plus one.

Not that is any great surprise, of course. These are the COVID-19 Games. The Coronavirus Games. The Close Contact Games.

While positive COVID-19 tests were an inevitability given the hordes of athletes, officials and media that have flown in for the first postponed Olympics, the way cases have been dealt with so far is of great concern, especially given the sport has only just started.

The rules in the "playbooks", frequently lauded by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Tokyo 2020, have been loosely followed at best, the Health Ministry is seemingly making it up as it goes along and organisers have left athletes and journalists who have been deemed to have been "close contacts" in the lurch.

Many of the issues surrounding these Games, which have left the Japanese public yearning for the event to end, are not necessarily the fault of the Organising Committee. But equally it has not helped itself when navigating what is admittedly a never-before-trodden Olympic path.

All participants at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics have to adhere to strict COVID-19 rules ©Getty Images
All participants at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics have to adhere to strict COVID-19 rules ©Getty Images

Athletes who test positive for COVID-19 are put into isolation for "up to 10 days", with the suggestion they could be freed if they test negative in Naso-pharyngeal PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests on days six and seven.

Those deemed to be close contacts - more of that later - can compete if they test negative six hours before their event.

Yet four journalists - one of whom is here for insidethegames - have been chucked into a 14-day quarantine, some in rooms the size of a shoebox, without a second thought after being deemed a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case on their flight.

It goes without saying that athletes are the stars of the show, and they deserve to be given every chance to compete on the grandest stage of them all, but why are the media subject to harsher measures? It is a question no-one in Japan has come anywhere close to answering.

Rules, however ridiculous and excessive, are rules, but what is unforgivable is the lack of care given to these unfortunate members of the media by Japan and the Organising Committee.

In the case of our insidethegames colleague Philip Barker, it took Tokyo 2020 five days to contact him about his situation. They have never once offered basics such as food, or even bothered to check on his mental wellbeing.

Tokyo 2020 claimed they did not have Barker’s contact details, the very same details we had to enter into what felt like 100 documents and forms just to be allowed into Japan. Make of that what you will.

Journalists appear to have been subjected to stricter COVID-19 measures compared with others at the Games ©Getty Images
Journalists appear to have been subjected to stricter COVID-19 measures compared with others at the Games ©Getty Images

Perhaps we should not be surprised. After all, this is an Organising Committee and a country which has been blatantly ignoring the rules it has laid down for all participants in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic circus, while simultaneously threatening the media with sanctions for spending too long at a convenience store or for walking too far away from the hotel.

The playbook states: "A decision on applicable measures [for close contacts] will be made on a case-by-case basis and will take into consideration the likelihood of you spreading the virus."

Barker is double-jabbed and has tested negative for COVID-19 on countless occasions. He is as likely to spread the virus as I am of winning the men’s 100 metres final.

The renowned Olympic historian, who has covered the Games for considerably longer than I have been alive, has been in the country since July 13. All but one of those days has been spent in a hotel room - not because he has COVID-19, but because he might have been within a few rows of someone on a plane.

What is equally bizarre is those of us lucky enough not to get "pinged" are travelling into the Main Press Centre or to venues on buses packed to the rafters and where social distancing is impossible.

We were allowed into lifts with locals during our quarantine, the exact people we are supposed to be quarantining from.

After 14 days we can take public transport, which in Tokyo is rammed full of commuters even at off-peak times and even during a state of emergency, which sounds much worse than it is in reality.

It must be said that all those affected are dealing with it remarkably well. The same cannot be said of organisers and the authorities.

The treatment of these journalists sets a worrying precedent for the thousands who have travelled to Japan to cover a Games where several restrictions have already been placed on the media.

Athletes and their National Olympic Committees are also understandably frustrated. There are some who are doing everything by the book, while receiving next to no communication or correspondence from organisers and the Ministry about when they might be set free.

"We’ve been stuck inside for six days now with 11 negative tests and all double vaccinated," British track and field athlete Zak Seddon, among the six from the country forced into isolation due to being a close contact, said.

"Shocked we’re not allowed back into a COVID-safe environment. My Olympic experience will be spent alone, bar a few socially distanced hours a day."

Numerous other athletes and teams have been isolating because of being a close contact of a person who later tested positive after a flight, and while this should become less of a problem when the majority have arrived, it is clear we have not heard the last of this issue.

It is one the Japanese Government, Tokyo 2020 and the IOC need to rectify as soon as possible. Instead of passing the buck of responsibility between each other, they should ensure this does not continue to blight athlete and the media’s participation in the Games.

They also need to explain and clarify why the press are subject to different rules than practically every other participant in the Games.

Journalists, as they say, should never be the story - but this is one that simply needed to be told.