No sex please: Frisky athletes may find Olympics provide quite the anticlimax

Tokyo Letter: Muted resentment that Games are going ahead mixed with stoic determination

Participants in the Games will have to produce fireworks inside empty stadiums to make up for the anticlimax outside. Photograph:  Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Participants in the Games will have to produce fireworks inside empty stadiums to make up for the anticlimax outside. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

 

During the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, a house in the Olympic Village became a pitstop for randy athletes. John Lakatos, a member of the US trap shooting team, recalls dozens of Olympians trooping through the property (dubbed “Shooters’ House”) for pleasures of the flesh over eight sweaty days. A duffel bag refilled with condoms from the village’s medical clinic was on hand. “I’ve never witnessed so much debauchery in my entire life,” said Lakatos.

In place of the hoopla and buzz that normally accompanies the Olympic circus in the host city is muted resentment that the Games are going ahead at all

Olympic officials have long understood the outcome of corralling thousands of the world’s most finely tuned young bodies into fenced-off villages. Rio set a record by handing out 450,000 condoms to Olympians in 2016 (Sydney managed just 70,000). The organisers of the Tokyo Games have announced the distribution of a relatively modest 150,000 condoms as souvenirs but told athletes to “avoid unnecessary forms of physical contact”, which has many scratching their heads. How are social distancing rules going to play out during the planet’s sporting showpiece as it unfolds during a pandemic?

Hoopla

Prime minister Yoshihide Suga partly answered that question last week. With coronavirus infections on the rise again in the host city, he said on July 8th that athletes will perform in spectator-less stadiums. Foreign visitors had already been banned from the event but the government has been forced to bow to medical advice that this may not be enough to stop the Delta variant of Covid-19 from spreading. Thousands of local ticket-buyers will now be receiving refunds, in addition to the more than 600,000 people overseas who had planned to come.

In place of the hoopla and buzz that normally accompanies the Olympic circus in the host city is muted resentment that the Games are going ahead at all, and a stoic determination to see it through. Suga’s announcement means that the Olympics, which run from July 23rd to August 8th, will take place amid a state of emergency (the fourth for Tokyo).

Though relatively modest strictures and far from the full lockdown imposed on other big cities, the fresh measures have been met with dismay, especially by the catering and service industries, which anticipated an Olympic bonanza. Even condom makers, who once saw the Olympics as a showcase for Japanese ultra-thin prophylactics, have expressed despair in the media.

Recyclable cardboard beds and mattresses for athletes at the Olympic Village, Tokyo, where sex has been discouraged and the sale of alcohol banned. Photograph: Akio Kon/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Recyclable cardboard beds and mattresses for athletes at the Olympic Village, Tokyo, where sex has been discouraged and the sale of alcohol banned. Photograph: Akio Kon/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Japan has seen 819,000 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, and nearly 15,000 deaths – well below the worst-affected countries. But 950 new infections were reported in Tokyo alone on Saturday and hospitals have repeatedly warned they are at risk of being overwhelmed. Some fear that Tokyo could incubate a new strain of the virus. About 17 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated after local authorities turbocharged the vaccination programme.

Olympic officials say the condoms distributed inside the village are for the purpose of 'raising awareness of infection prevention, for taking home and enlightening people'

The torch relay has been pulled off some public roads, and hundreds of promotional events dropped as nervous local officials grow skittish about possible public opinion. Spectators have been banned from Olympic events as far off as Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island. A symbolic moment came last week when Kayoko Takahashi, a 53-year-old woman, tried to douse the Olympic torch with a water-pistol as it was being carried around a park in Mito City. “Stop the Olympics,” she shouted as she was surrounded by police.

Kaori Yamaguchi, a former athlete and a member of the Japanese Olympic Committee, spoke for many in a June editorial when she asked why the Olympics were proceeding. “The Games have already lost meaning and are being held just for the sake of them. I believe we have already missed the opportunity to cancel. It would require too much energy to make and follow through with such a decision. We have been cornered into a situation where we cannot even stop now. We are damned if we do, and damned if we do not.”

Discourage sex

The first batch of 15,000 expected athletes have started to arrive in Tokyo – to forbidding Covid rules. In addition to the attempt to discourage sex, the sale of alcohol is banned in the Olympic Village (though it can be brought in the luggage of athletes and members of their entourages). Visitors must agree to maintain social distancing, avoid public transport and keep attendants informed of their location. Anyone breaking these rules could be expelled from the village. The Japanese media, needless to say, will be on the alert for high-profile miscreants.

Will athletes obey these rules and relieve their competitive tensions by watching reruns of themselves on television? Olympic officials say the condoms distributed inside the village are for the purpose of “raising awareness of infection prevention, for taking home and enlightening people”, which shows a touching faith in the athletes’ willpower. Either way, participants in the Games will have to produce fireworks inside empty stadiums to make up for the anticlimax outside.

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