Postponements or cancellations of international competitions have become a norm over the past year due to the global pandemic. One such example is the Olympic test event for diving, the FINA Diving World Cup 2021. The said event was originally scheduled for April but was moved to May due to rising cases in the host city, Tokyo.
A drawback for European teams participating in the event was that the new schedule landed right next to another major international event, the LEN European Aquatics Championships. This event is scheduled to commence only four days after the World Cup in Tokyo concludes.
More than 250 athletes from over 40 countries arrived in Tokyo to vie for a spot at the Tokyo Olympics. The World Cup happened to be the final qualifying tournament for the Games. Teams were also eager to participate in the event despite the pandemic as they wanted to try out the newly-built Tokyo Aquatics Centre, the venue for diving at the Olympic Games this July.
Since the Tokyo Olympics is fast approaching, we thought it best to share with you what it is like to experience a world-class event in Tokyo during this global pandemic from the perspective of a team official. We also interviewed some athletes who have been in Tokyo for over a week to hopefully give you a glimpse of what the Tokyo Olympics will be like.
The indicated ratings are of our own interpretation, however, and not of the athletes.
Arrival in Tokyo: 5/10
Upon arrival at the Haneda International Airport, each delegation is expected to have a three-hour “march” throughout the airport. Each team member was asked to fill out several documents, take a COVID-19 test, register in three mobile applications, link their email address up, and enable geolocation tagging. All this is done to monitor visitors to Japan. Furthermore, everyone is asked to write down their health status and indicate their location every day. Almost three hours from landing at the airport, our team was finally able to proceed to the hotel.
Transfer to the Accommodations: 9/10
GOOD, and nothing more to wish for (except, perhaps, for English-speaking drivers who can understand that they need to turn off the air conditioner so that the athletes do not get sick). The airport-hotel (and vice versa) transfer took no more than 30 minutes. Buses were allocated for the exclusive use of each team. The first thing you notice after leaving the airport is the clean, beautiful and well-lit roads. More importantly, there were no traffic jams.
The hotel rooms were actually spacious with normal ceiling heights which was quite good even for Japanese standards. However, there was a whole list of prohibitions. You cannot move around different floors at all. In the elevator, there is an operator to ensure that nobody has access to any other floor. The gym is closed. The laundry machine does not work. While you can call housekeeping by pressing a special button in your room, for some reason, the staff only does “dry” cleaning. As a result, there is dust in the rooms on all surfaces. Also, you cannot gather, smoke, or leave the hotel. Naturally, all kinds of excursions, trips to shops, etc. were prohibited.
Almost everyone initially reacted to such prohibitions with hostility but, in the end, they became more understanding. In fact, after a couple of days, everyone resigned themselves to these prohibitions and got accustomed to them.
The daily tests for COVID-19 were administered at the hotel. Thankfully, it was just a saliva test (you just had to spit it into a special container), and not the full-fledged nasal PCR tests.
Meals were delivered to the rooms which is, naturally, very inconvenient. But this was not as much of a problem as the food itself. The food provided to everyone was absolutely basic, in small portions, had low nutrients that athletes need, and had no variety. In addition, almost all the food was not tasty (at least for Europeans).
If one does not know of the capability of the Japanese in cooking, one would think that this is their normal food. However, everyone knows that they can do so much better. After a couple of days, the organizers allowed everyone to order their own food to be delivered to their rooms, which made the stay a little more comfortable.
The Tokyo Aquatics Centre is located 5 minutes by bus from the hotel. When approaching the pool, the bus makes a “lap of honor,” going around the entire building, which annoyed many.
The facility itself is spacious with three pools – two for swimming and one for diving. The Tokyo Aquatics Centre was opened in October 2020 with a capacity of 15,000 spectators. It is located in Koto City, an artificial island.
The diving section of the aquatics centre is a copy of many top pools globally where the springboards and platforms follow a mirrored position. However, the narrow platforms of 3 and 7 meters made it inconvenient for athletes to practice lead exercises for synchronized pairs.
Similar: Ukrainian Open Diving Cup 2021
The volunteers were always very courteous and polite everywhere and, thus, the Japanese culture is immediately felt. At the same time, however, almost no one speaks English. During our 10 days of stay, I met only one volunteer girl who spoke fluent English because she lived in Canada for some time. More often, volunteers just repeated what you say to them out loud, which makes it look funny. Ultimately, problems are solved when volunteers gather and collectively address the issue.
Organization of the Competition: 8/10
The competition itself was well organized. FINA has a vast experience in preparing such events and we only encountered minor changes in the schedule and other formalities.
There was one unpleasant experience where I forgot my accreditation card at the hotel and I was not allowed into the pool. I had to go back to the hotel. Such are the Japanese. There is no sound human logic and understanding but there are laws and rules which are above all. The divers themselves, as expected, were able to pass without problems.
Something that made me curious was that, at the entrance to the pool, all participants were allowed to bring in water, snacks, and coffee, but cups and boiling water were not available for coffee. When asked where and how to brew coffee, volunteers shrug their shoulders. I saw several teams actually carry their own kettles for them to boil the water.
Medical Staff and COVID-19: 6/10
Regarding their medical staff, despite the strict COVID-19 protocol in Japan, there were questions raised.
One athlete hit the water hard during a dive and needed medical attention, and, as it later turned out, hospitalization. 90 minutes after the incident and upon the return of the athlete and her accompanying physician back to the venue, a PCR test was awaiting as they left the bubble. The test gave false-positive results several times as reported by the representatives of the medical staff. In this case, there was complete order. When a positive test is detected, a person is placed in short-term quarantine and, after two negative test results, that person is allowed back to the team.
Before departing from Japan, it was also necessary to produce a negative PCR test result. For the Ukrainian team, the next destination was straight to Hungary for the European Championships. According to regulations, it was necessary to have a PCR test done no later than 48 hours upon arrival in Hungary. The Japanese took nasal swabs from one nostril for this test. For some, it is painless but for others it was uncomfortable. Test results were given after 6-7 hours. In our case, results were given on the morning of the next day.
The quality of the broadcast itself was at its best. However, due to the termination of FINA TV, many had difficulties in gaining access to the broadcast. In the first two days, the broadcast was carried on the website of Eurovision Sport TV. However, on the third day, the broadcast was blocked at least for viewing in Japan. Ultimately, access through YouTube worked fine and most people were able to watch the competition through this platform.
Overall Impression: 6/10
In general, of course, Tokyo and the aquatics centre are ready for the start of the Olympics. Issues, in one way or another, always arise. No one is immune from this But more importantly, they are resolved swiftly. The overall impression for the event was pulled down by the food and excessively strict COVID-19 protocols. This turned the stay in Tokyo for the World Cup from a holiday of sports into an event that I wanted to get over with and leave as soon as possible.
Also, there were some issues in the competition organization, mainly on the part of the local organizing committee, that caused many questions which are negative. Nevertheless, the test event was a success as all Olympic slots were awarded as planned.
The Tokyo Aquatics Centre is expecting to host the most significant event in the world of sports in the last five years. Sport fans the world over will receive a flurry of new emotions and impressions despite it being only online or on TV since there will be no foreign spectators or volunteers at this Olympics.
Previously, Biden Supports Japan’s Decision to Push Through with the Olympic Games.
Edited by Aldo Tong