Gymnastics meet offers glimpse at COVID-19 era Olympics

Japan yesterday (Sunday) staged its first international sporting competition since the COVID-19 shutdown as efforts continue into how Tokyo can successfully stage the postponed Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The one-off ‘Friendship and Solidarity Competition’ saw a total of 30 gymnasts from Japan, the United States, Russia and China split into two teams of mixed nationalities and genders at Yoyogi National Gymnasium, a host venue for Tokyo 2020.

The event, organised by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) and hosted by the Japanese Gymnastics Association (JGA), had been the subject of much interest amongst the global sporting community and saw 2,094 spectators attend the 8,700-capacity arena (pictured).

Fans in attendance sanitised their hands regularly, checked their body temperatures and remained socially distanced at the Yoyogi Gymnasium, while also being encouraged not to shout to avoid spreading droplets. Athletes and journalists were also subject to strict hygiene measures and were sprayed with a sanitising mist.

During the opening ceremony, there was a surprise video message from International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach. He said: “With this competition, you (athletes) are also setting an example that sport can be organised safely even under the ongoing health restrictions.

“This is a very important thing for the entire world, giving us confidence in our preparations for future events – in particular of course, the postponed Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. What better demonstration than this, than celebrating friendship and solidarity in sport at the iconic Yoyogi National Gymnasium where so much Olympic history was made and will be made again next year.”

Top Japanese government officials attended the event, including Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto and Sports Minister Koichi Hagiuda. Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee, said Bach would visit Japan next week partly to review the success of the gymnastics meet.

“Unless this competition becomes a success, there was a view that it would be almost impossible to hold the Olympics next year,” Mori said, according to the AFP news agency.

The staging of the Friendship and Solidarity Competition comes after Japanese authorities last weekend hailed the success of a three-day trial held at Yokohama Stadium to test measures allowing the return of fans in large numbers.

The trial concluded with Yokohama Stadium fully reopening to spectators for a Nippon Professional Baseball game between the DeNA BayStars and Hanshin Tigers. The game on November 1 drew a crowd of 27,850 to the 32,402-seat stadium.

Yokohama Stadium will be the main venue for baseball and softball events at next year’s rescheduled Olympic Games. Tokyo 2020 had a 10-man inspection team in place at Yokohama Stadium, as the local organising committee continues to study how it will accommodate fans in the era of COVID-19.

Image: Kakidai/CC BY-SA 4.0/Edited for size