With reveal of IOC’s pandemic Playbook, Canadian athletes know Tokyo Games will be unique

From social distancing to careful monitoring to zero tolerance for a positive test.

The International Olympic Committee’s athletes “Playbook” might have been short on specifics more than five months out from the opening ceremonies, but a major takeaway was that the Tokyo Games amid a global pandemic will be unlike any before.

“It’s a really good time to park [expectations],” said Marnie McBean, the chef de mission of Canada’s Olympic team for Tokyo. “Like I wrote in a message to athletes: This isn’t going to be like any other Games you’ve been to. And in fact, I don’t think you should compare it to any Games, it’s going to be an outlier. And, if you keep comparing it to the days of old, it’s going to be shocking.”

There were no surprises in the Playbook, meant to detail how organizers plan to safely host more than 15,000 athletes, plus the IOC hopes reassure the more than 80 per cent of Japanese residents who said in recent polls the Games should be postponed or cancelled.

The Playbook states that athletes aren’t required to be vaccinated to compete, although the IOC has asked national Olympic committees to meet with their respective federal governments on procuring athlete vaccinations.

WATCH | Breaking down the IOC’s pandemic Playbook:

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Canada plans to send a team whether or not athletes have been vaccinated.

“Vaccines would be lovely, right? That would be really nice,” said McBean, a triple Olympic gold medallist in rowing. “But we knew we couldn’t count on them.”

The Playbook states that a safe Games can’t be guaranteed.

“Despite all care taken, we draw to your attention that risks and impacts may not be fully eliminated and that you agree to attend the Olympic and Paralympic Games at your own risk,” it said.

The warning wasn’t surprising said race walker Evan Dunfee, and athletes understand the risks.

“But I can’t imagine many athletes will decide to stay home. For me personally, it is a personal risk I am absolutely willing to take,” said the world bronze medallist.

Dunfee stressed what’s more important is following rules around isolating once he returns home, for the safety of others.

The IOC is in a tough spot, he added, facing opposition from some who believe the Games shouldn’t happen.

“And I think some of the athletes, myself included, are stuck in this position of thinking maybe the Games shouldn’t be happening but at the same time not wanting to give up this opportunity that we’ve worked our entire lives for,” Dunfee said. “This is the moment I’ve been dreaming of since I was 10 years old and I just can’t bring myself to not compete.”

WATCH | IOC reveals Playbook:

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Field hockey captain plans to play

Risks around travelling aren’t new to athletes. Several high profile athletes, including Canadian tennis player Milos Raonic and golf star Rory McIlroy, stayed home from the 2016 Rio Olympics citing concerns around the Zika virus.

“It’s interesting because Zika wasn’t affecting your everyday life. You kind of heard about it, but it was in Brazil, life was normal in Canada,” said Canada’s men’s field hockey captain Scott Tupper. “And so, I don’t know how it would sway someone one way or the other in that we’ve all been living with COVID for nearly a year now.”

Tupper also plans to play in Tokyo, vaccine or no vaccine. Canada’s men’s field hockey team is among those fortunate to have qualified already.

“That is a little bit of a risk that everyone has to do a self-assessment on,” he said. “I’m 34 years old and I’m quite healthy, and I don’t have anything underlying.”

Two-time Olympic trampoline champion Rosie MacLennan said she will also go regardless. And while Canada was a driving force in postponement of the Tokyo Games, MacLennan said there’s comfort in the knowledge gained over the past 11 months, and the fact that other sports such as the NHL, NFL and NBA returned.

“Every event that goes forward, there’s lessons to be learned,” she said. “And I think having a year to learn and kind of watch other leagues, watch other events come together — what’s worked? What hasn’t? There’s a lot more information out there than there was a year ago.”

Play comes before parties in Tokyo

The Playbook also stressed there won’t be any partying in Tokyo. Athletes are expected to leave soon after their events.

“Canada stopped going to the Olympics for the trip and the track suit a long, long time ago,” McBean said. “We have a really high performing team, they’re professional, every single one of them commits to their sport in a professional career-wise way.

“It’s always nice to be at the Olympics, and to celebrate. [But] I don’t think we’d have a single team member who would say I’d rather go to the party than the sport.”

The IOC and the organizing committee is expected to release more detailed playbooks for athletes, broadcasters, and officials in April and June.

And if Tuesday’s edition was thin on the details, McBean said the fact that it even exists is a victory in itself.

“From the Playbook, I got that athletes get to go to the Games,” she said. “That to me is really, really good news.”

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