WHO remarks on laxness led to stricter IOC Playbook

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The third version of Tokyo 2020 Playbook — Athletes and Officials

The third edition of the Tokyo 2020 Playbook for athletes and officials, a compilation of strict novel coronavirus control guidelines for all participants that was released Tuesday, notably added harsh punishments for violations of coronavirus protocols in an attempt to allay concerns from the World Health Organization (WHO) that infections will spread during the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

The WHO commented late last month that the Playbooks at the time were too lax and expressed concern, remarks that left the Japanese government puzzled, as the WHO was a partner in the creation of the first two editions of the Playbooks.

The WHO was influenced by an article published in a U.S. medical journal on the Playbooks, which stated, “The IOC’s playbooks are not built on scientifically rigorous risk assessment.” Infectious disease experts pointed out such flaws as one-size-fits-all measures for all sports, and athletes being asked to supply their own masks.

In response, the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, the Cabinet Secretariat and the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry held an emergency meeting to review the third edition, which was almost ready for release. Open criticism of the countermeasures, not only from the U.S. journal but from the WHO itself, added to fears about holding the event.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The third edition includes a section in response to athletes’ requests to know the procedure for COVID-19 testing, and precisely what would happen in case of a positive test. Divided into two patterns based on the competition’s starting time — either in the morning or afternoon — it clarifies the flow from when a sample is submitted, the result becomes available and a retest is conducted, if necessary.

The revised Playbook for athletes further stiffens regulations on their movements. Among new rules are that after leaving Japan, overseas athletes must continue to monitor their health and check their temperature for 14 days; should they develop COVID-19 symptoms, they must inform the liaison officer of their country or region.

In addition to being stripped of credentials, such heavy penalties as disqualification from the Games and financial sanctions are also spelled out. Athletes and officials are banned from walking around town or sightseeing, with violators subject to possible deportation by the government.

About 15,000 athletes are expected to descend on Japan during the Games. The question is, will they all actually adhere to such strict rules?

Athletes suspected of flouting the rules will be required to submit a record of their location information from their smartphone to the International Olympic Committee or other governing bodies. An investigative team from the organizing committee will confirm the facts before imposing punishment.

Refusing to be tested is also subject to punishment. A saliva sample taken by an athlete in their room will be used for testing, but unannounced tests are being considered to make sure athletes do not do something inappropriate, such as brushing their teeth or using mouthwash just before testing.

The IOC will soon release the remainder of the Playbooks, designed for members of the media, sponsors, and officials and staff from the international federations, which will stipulate similar disciplinary measures and limitations on movements.

“If foreign athletes continue to check their health for a certain period after returning to their countries, it will lead to peace of mind both in Japan and abroad,” said Toho University Prof. Kazuhiro Tateda, an expert on infectious diseases. “Strict rules have been compiled, and now we have to place importance on how to ensure compliance.”