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Politics & Security

Reporting Tokyo 2020: Three-Day Quarantine, Olympic Bubble, Freedom of the Press?

Many journalists are asking why is the press restricted, even after the 14-day quarantine period?

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On July 13 and with 10 days to go before the Opening Ceremony, International Olympic Committee Chief Thomas Bach commented to journalists that these were the “best-ever-prepared” Olympics Games. 

With 75 percent of the IOC income going to broadcasting rights, it’s understandable that after the athletes themselves, there is another group which is quite important in the holding of the Games: the journalists.

Approximately 6,000 reporters from all over the world are descending upon Tokyo, and some have already arrived.

And yes, these are turning out to be an unusual set of Olympics Games from the point of view of those doing the reporting, too.

The Rules for Journalist Entering Japan

Olympic Games operations director of IOC Pierre Ducrey speaks during a press briefing for the presentation of the version three of Tokyo 2020 Playbook in Tokyo, Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (Behrouz Mehri/Pool Photo via AP)

In late April, the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee published the “Playbook” for everyone involved in the Games, including athletes, organizers, and of course journalists and broadcasters.

The Playbook version that applies to journalists alone is 68 pages long. Its focus is the mandatory steps journalists must take for COVID-19 prevention, before and during their stay in Japan.

Measures include coordination with a “COVID Liaison Officer” (CLO), which each company must appoint for their own personnel, as well as a detailed 14-day-plan which must be submitted upon arriving in Japan. Then there are the several apps which must be downloaded, including one for daily health condition checks called “Online Check-in and Health Report App” (OCHA). 

During the first fortnight in Japan, reporters must perform PCR tests daily, while their movements are restricted to the government approved hotel and the Main Press Center to cover Tokyo 2020. 

During their first three-days in Japan reporters are told to confine themselves to their rooms, except to pick up food in their hotel lobby or receive delivery of take-out meals at the hotel. 

Even after the 14-day period, those working in the media are asked to keep their interactions with people unrelated to media coverage of the Olympics to a minimum, and to wear a mask whenever possible. 

Reuters journalist Joseph Campbell tweeted his reaction to the rules, here:


Rules versus Reality

Moreover, there are already logistical problems popping up in the enforcement of the playbook rules.

Complaining of a lack of information, and designated websites “not working,” unanswered email and more, Canada’s CTV News reporter Grace Lee, who is also the COVID-19 liaison for her company, used social media to share some of the logistical difficulties in actually getting this done on July 6. She also addressed the paucity of pivotal information, such as how to get a visa.

Antonio Hermosin, who is a reporter with the Spanish news agency EFE, echoed this sentiment on the same day, saying bluntly: “These COVID logistics for Tokyo 2020 journalists are being an incredibly inefficient nightmare. We are happy collaborating for the safety of the Games, but this could be done through a single app/web, instead of an endless avalanche of PDFs, registrations and Excel.”

In response, Tristian Lavier, a senior communication officer for the International Olympic Committee, took the time to answer to the Twitter thread on the frustrations, saying “If you’re a COVID-19 Liaison for your media organisation: we’re fully aware it’s a heavy duty, but this role is essential to ensure all Games participants and the people of Japan stay safe.”

“This represents a lot of additional work for Tokyo 2020 as well, which is why some replies may not have been very timely. There’s also sometimes a need to prioritise based on arrival schedules,” concluded Lavier: “Thank you for bearing with us.”

When asked for a statement, Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee also commented in an email to JAPAN Forward on July 9: “The playbook has been scientifically updated in the midst of the changing COVID-19 situation, and it incorporates the experience of many sporting events that have been safely held all over the world even during COVID-19.”

The statement further elaborated that the playbook was also based on the task force formed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the IOC, the Government of Japan, Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, the World Health Organization (WHO) and a panel of experts.

“We would like you to comply with the rules of the playbook, so that if each person participates in the tournament according to the rules, the tournament can be held in a safe and secure environment,” concluded the Tokyo 2020 statement.

Freedom of the Press?

On the other hand, some news organizations have criticized the IOC, saying the current limitation on the movement of reporters is blocking the freedom of the press.

Sports editors of ten U.S. news organizations, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today, sent a letter on July 1, according to Kyodo News. The Kyodo report quoted the letter as saying: “Some of these measures we have described go beyond limiting the spread of the virus and speak directly and chiefly to press freedoms.”

FILE – This Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012 file photo shows the New York Times logo on the company’s building in New York.

On July 2, the International Sports Journalists Association (AIPS) President Gianni Merlo also commented on the matter, according to online news media insidethegames.biz, appealing to Japan: “The people of Japan must not see us as an enemy bringing coronavirus,” he continued, “We are coming not to destroy, but to bring a message of hope.”

When asked for a statement, the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee told JAPAN Forward: “We give due consideration and respect to the freedom of coverage, and we will ensure smooth activities related to the tournament, but we believe that extremely strict measures are required in view of the COVID-19 situation in all countries, and we believe it is important for all participants and residents of Japan.”

With just a few days until the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, one can’t help but share the feeling that history is in the making, even in the way the Olympic Games are reported. Let’s hope this is not a history that we will regret. 

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Author: Arielle Busetto

Arielle Busetto is full-time reporter at JAPAN Forward, covering culture, technology, politics, health, among other things. Major assignments in the past included the national elections in Japan, the G20 in Osaka in 2019, COP26 in Glasgow, gathering experience on a range of media including podcasts, video and more.