Toward Safe and Secure Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games - Thoughts Behind the Code of Conduct "Playbooks"

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games are set to open amid the COVID-19 pandemic. To achieve a safe and secure event, organizers of the Games produced a Playbook that outlines a code of conduct for infection control measures. We spoke with Michio Sawasaki of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, about the background of the guidelines and his thoughts on the Games.

"Rules are meaningless if they are not followed." Michio Sawasaki, Senior Director of MOC Project Department, Games Delivery Office, of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, has been involved from the conceptual stage of the Playbooks that summarize guidelines for COVID-19 infection control measures.

Michio Sawasaki, Senior Director of the MOC Project Department, Games Delivery Office, of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Sawasaki began working in Tokyo Metropolitan Government in 1992. He was assigned to the headquarters for Tokyo's Olympics bid in 2006, and was engaged in activities of bidding and preparing for the 2016 and 2020 Games.

In 2016, he was dispatched to the Organising Committee, where he was placed in charge of areas including food and beverage services, anti-doping, and competition planning. He has held his current position since 2019.

The Playbooks were created following discussions among the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, and the national government. It constitutes a set of guidelines summarizing the COVID-19 infection control rules to be observed by participants in the Tokyo 2020 Games. The Playbooks embrace a message of protecting all participants in the Games, including athletes, the people of Japan, and the citizens of Tokyo.

Official Playbooks (Third Edition)

The Playbooks - Your guide to safe and successful Games

Developed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, and other parties, based on expert scientific knowledge, this guide summarizes the rules to be followed by athletes and other participants in the Tokyo 2020 Games to control COVID-19 infection. The first edition was published in February 2021, the second in April, and the third in June.

The third edition requires that athletes limit their range of activities in principle to their accommodation location, training venues, and competition venues while in Japan, and that they act in accordance with activity plans submitted to the Organising Committee before entering Japan. Persons staying in the Olympic Village are to eat in the Olympic Village or at competition venues, while other persons are to use room service or restaurants in their accommodations.

"The aim was to create content that is easy to understand and is persuasive to the athletes. Considerations for athletes were heavily discussed during the creation of the Playbooks, as the Olympics and the Paralympics are, in the end, stage for competition. It would not be possible without the athletes at the center of it."

However, the contents of the Playbooks by no means place an easy burden on the athletes. Masks and physical distancing are required, no family and friends can be invited, and the athletes cannot even go out to the streets of Tokyo. COVID-19 tests are conducted daily, resulting in immediate isolation when confirmed positive. Violation of the rules could result in sanctions including suspension from participation in the competitions.

"The Olympic and Paralympic Games normally carry the image of a celebration, but the implications this time are a bit different. It is not easy to secure the excitement of sports while placing safety first. Even so, as long the Games are being held, we want to provide a stage where athletes can participate without worry. We also want to protect every participant, including athletes and the people of Tokyo and Japan. We have made preparations with those thoughts in mind."

Sawasaki says that changes in the pandemic situation presented the greatest challenge in formulating the rules.

"The initial premise was that guests would also come from overseas. The pandemic appeared to have subsided at one point, but then the UK and South African variants emerged. When we had finally set some rule after repeated discussions, the ever-changing pandemic situation would force us to change the content of the Playbook all over again. We published the third edition on June 15, 2021, but have been revising it since because conditions keep changing."

Sawasaki says that his team will continue to optimize and adjust rules to meet the latest conditions for pandemic measures, right up to the start of the events.

Sawasaki has been a part of bringing about the Olympic and Paralympic Games since Tokyo worked on the bid for the 2016 Games in 2006, and continuing to today. For him, the Tokyo 2020 Games will mark the accomplishment of a wish that spans 15 years. Most venues will host their competitions without spectators. This is the reason why Sawasaki puts great efforts into his words, hoping to send heartfelt encouragement to the athletes.

"While there, unfortunately, will not be cheers from the spectators' seats, we still want to prepare an environment that will help athletes deliver their best performances. Even under these conditions, sports are possible. It is wonderful to see people devoting themselves into their sports. I want to make this an event that will let everyone feel that way."

Text and Photos: Kyousuke Akasaka