Japan’s Naomi Osaka celebrates after winning her quarter-final in her Australian Open warm-up tournament. Photo: Reuters
Faster, Higher, Stronger
by Jonathan White
Faster, Higher, Stronger
by Jonathan White

Tokyo 2020: Naomi Osaka talks more sense than Olympic playbook

  • Japan’s tennis star said she would be willing to quarantine to play at her home Olympics this summer but isolating not in Games guide
  • First of series of playbooks bans hugging, high fives and handshakes and fans asked not to cheer but Covid-19 vaccines not essential
Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka is the face of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and she might well become the voice of it, too.
She is certainly a voice of reason amid the strained larynxes of the tennis world gathered in Melbourne for the Australian Open.
The run-up to the first grand slam of the year has seen some very vocal complaints about quarantine from players as Australia battles Covid-19.

Not from Osaka, who also said she would be happy to quarantine ahead of the Olympic tennis tournament this summer.

Naomi Osaka arrives in Adelaide before heading straight to quarantine for two weeks isolation. Photo: AFP
“The way that I feel is I will stay in my room for two weeks to play the Olympics,” said Osaka, who won her opening match at the Australian Open on Monday.

She said this after completing two weeks isolating in Adelaide before her warm-up tournament for the Australian Open.

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The 23-year-old competes for Japan, where she was born, and she will be a huge hope for the hosts at this summer’s delayed Games.

“I missed out on the last one. Playing in Tokyo would be very special to me. My concern would be the general safety of everyone else because you’re opening the country.

“Everyone is flying in from different places. I would just want the public to feel safe. I feel like the athletes definitely would want to play, but I would want the public to feel safe.”

The Japanese public have made their feelings quite clear about the delayed Games – the latest opinion poll last month had two-thirds in favour of a further delay or outright cancellation.

It remains to be seen how the first Tokyo 2020 Playbook, all 32 pages of it, will affect that.

That Tokyo 2020 Playbook for International Federations, released last week, does not exactly hermetically seal the athletes or anyone else travelling to Japan for the Olympics.

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Despite Osaka’s willingness there will be no quarantine required, instead the athletes will be asked to submit an “activity plan” for the duration of their stay.

Nor will anyone be required to take a vaccine, though they are encouraged to do so.

“When vaccinations are made available to a broader public, the IOC calls for Olympic and Paralympic teams to be vaccinated,” the playbook says, citing the importance of the Games.

“Therefore, the IOC will work with the NOCs to encourage and assist their athletes, officials and stakeholders to get vaccinated in their home countries, in line with national immunisation guidelines, before they go to Japan.”

Visitors are asked to distance before they leave for the Olympics.

“Keep your physical contact with other people to a minimum during the 14 days before you travel to Japan,” the playbook said.

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The headlines so far are that no one is to use public transport, unless they get permission, and the list of forbidden behaviours includes handshakes, hugs, high fives, cheering and singing.

“The health and safety of everyone at the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 are our top priority. We each have our part to play. That’s why these playbooks have been created – with the rules that will make each and everyone of us a sound, safe and active contributor to the Games. We know these Olympic Games will be different in a number of ways,” IOC Olympic Games executive director Christophe Dubi said on the release of the playbook.

“For all Games participants, there will be some conditions and constraints that will require flexibility and understanding. We are providing the main directions at this stage, but naturally don’t have all the final details yet; an update will be published in the spring and may change as necessary even closer to the Games.”

Osaka wears a protective face mask with the name Ahmaud Arbery stencilled on it after winning a third match at the 2020 US Open. Photo: AFP

Those “main directions” contain few actual details, critics have pointed out. There will be an update to come in April. In the meantime there will be further playbooks.

The next is for broadcasters on February 8, with the one for athletes and team officials the following day and then the press on February 10.

They are going to need them.

We have seen at the Australian Open, which is a damn sight smaller than the Olympics, how fragile sport is in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some 507 players, officials and support staff had to be quarantined after a hotel worker tested positive for Covid-19.

That delayed the draw for the Australian Open once those in quarantine – including 160 players – had been tested. All of them came back negative and the tournament proper began on Monday.

While these playbooks don’t demand quarantine as Osaka suggested or even a vaccine for the athletes, hopefully their updates give the doomed Olympics of Tokyo 2020 a much-needed shot in the arm.