The logistical challenge of COVID-19's impact on Australia at the Tokyo Olympic Games

Australian Olympic team chef de mission Ian Chesterman is prepared for a Games unlike any other. Picture: Getty Images
Australian Olympic team chef de mission Ian Chesterman is prepared for a Games unlike any other. Picture: Getty Images

Perspex shields divide the tables inside the dining hall tucked deep in the heart of the Tokyo Olympic Games village.

A shuttle bus runs every 15 minutes taking athletes and coaches from their accommodation to training and competition venues.

Long before Australia's gold medal hopefuls get the key to a room and set down their bags, they must wait at the airport for a COVID-19 test result. Daily swab tests will follow.

Welcome to the Tokyo Olympics, the Games like we've never seen them before, and one would hope like we'll never see them again.

"It's only because they're different that the Games can happen," Australian Olympic team chef de mission Ian Chesterman said.

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"You couldn't run a normal Games with the normal level of social interaction, normal level of extra activities, in the midst of a global pandemic.

"Because the Games are being organised clearly with the goal of ensuring athlete and participant safety, the Games can be run."

The world's largest sporting event is expected to bring more than 11,000 athletes from an expected 205 countries together from July 23 to August 8 in the midst of a global pandemic.

Couple that with reports an estimated 79,000 people - including Olympic officials, support staff and journalists - will descend on the Games, and one is presented with a logistical nightmare.

The Australian team will send almost 480 athletes among a total cohort of about 850 people, so how will they pull it off? Charter flights, masks, hand sanitiser, shipping containers and athletes on a hit and run mission.

A hell of a lot of stuff has to go over, everything from horses to rowing boats, canoes, kayaks.

Australian Olympic team chef de mission Ian Chesterman

"It's a massive logistical exercise to take a team away. We'll have one of the five biggest teams of any nation at these Olympic Games," Chesterman said.

"It's a massive logistical exercise to get all of those people over there in the midst of a global pandemic, and also just to get all of the equipment and supplies we need to operate effectively over in Tokyo.

"A hell of a lot of stuff has to go over, everything from horses to rowing boats, canoes, kayaks.

"There's a lot of teams with a lot of equipment that has to be taken over. That happens at every Olympic Games.

"Obviously as an Australian Olympic team, we take a lot of supplies as well, equipment and food services we need to be able to provide to the athletes within our allotment.

"We've had to supplement what commercial flights are available with four charter flights. We've got one charter taking athletes from Australia to Japan, and the rest will be travelling on commercial flights.

"On the way back we have three charters supplementing what's available through commercial programs as well."

Australian athletes can arrive in the Tokyo bubble five days before they compete and must be on a flight home within 48 hours of their competition finishing.

So it is far from the Games many grow up dreaming off, and vastly different to those some have experienced before.

It may not seem too different for the punter watching from their living room. After all, Australian sports fans have grown accustomed to watching matches without big crowds over the past 13 months.

Yet for the athletes and staff like Australian Opals assistant coach Paul Goriss, things will "definitely be different".

Canberra Capitals and Australian Opals assistant coach Paul Goriss. Picture: Jamila Toderas

Canberra Capitals and Australian Opals assistant coach Paul Goriss. Picture: Jamila Toderas

Goriss, who doubles as two-time WNBL championship-winning coach of the Canberra Capitals, will stay outside the village due to a surplus in numbers.

It presents another headache for officials, and another reason for daily COVID-19 tests for everyone inside the Olympic bubble - whether they're staying in the village or not.

"There's numbers capped in the village because of social distancing and the amount of numbers to a room," Goriss said.

"I know for the Opals and Boomers at least, every athlete has their own room. Obviously that has put a premium on the rooms. There's two overflow hotels for Australia.

"It's all new for me as well, so I'm just trying to get my head around when we get there trying to find where everything is.

"You're not allowed to be going out to a shopping mall or a restaurant or a cafe. It's purely going from practice and games back to the village or your hotel, and that's about it. It's just to minimise the risk involved in being out and about."

Many Australian team members will miss the opening ceremony given they are not allowed to arrive in Japan more than five days prior to competition.

"What's really important is yes, the Games are different, but the athletes have embraced that," Chesterman said.

"For many of our athletes, they would have spent many times struggling with the prospect of the Games not going ahead.

"It certainly has lived in the hearts and minds of many, and it's very difficult to keep pursuing that dream if you're not sure it's there.

"I've been amazed with the resilience of our athletes, and their determination to have these Games."

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