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No hugs! No handshakes! No high fives! How Tokyo 2021 will look different from past Olympics

A new playbook hopes to keep the world’s largest sports festival from becoming a superspreader event.

No hugs! No handshakes! No high fives! How Tokyo 2021 will look different from past Olympics
[Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images]
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Picture a typical montage of Olympic footage. Often, it includes images of athletes from far-flung countries joining hands. A swimmer, consoling a competitor with a pat on the back after a heartbreaking loss. A soccer team, embracing in joyous celebration after winning a hard-fought victory.

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This year, there will be none of that.

Sportsmanship, long considered a hallmark of the quadrennial Olympic Games, will have to take a different form as new rules will prohibit the customary handshakes, high fives, and hugs at the world’s largest athletic event. The changes, published today in the International Olympic Committee’s first official “playbook” for the Tokyo 2021 summer games, which were deferred from 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic struck, offer a first glimpse at what the massive sports festival will look like in the age of the coronavirus.

And it will look spare, it appears, from a brief review of the book. Aside from discouraging physical contact, rules also state that spectators should support athletes only by clapping and should refrain from cheering, chanting, or singing.

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Athletes, meanwhile, will not be allowed to watch their teammates and competitors at the venues, unlike in previous games. They also will not be allowed to use public transportation unless granted permission, should not visit tourist areas, shops, or restaurants, and must wear face masks at all times “except when eating and sleeping.”

The playbook is directed at mitigating the risk of COVID-19 brought by the Tokyo games, which the International Olympic Committee has insisted will take place this year. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga yesterday extended Japan’s state of emergency until early March, although the country has seen relatively few coronavirus cases compared to many countries, with 400,000 total cases and 6,000 deaths. (The United States, which has roughly 2.6 times the population of Japan, has reported 26.5 million cases and 447,000 deaths.)

The Olympic torch will be lit on June 23 and will burn until August 8.