What the Olympics can learn from the Super Bowl, and the waiting game for athletes

Japan 2020

AUSTIN (KXAN) — What can the upcoming Super Bowl, and its coronavirus precautions, highlight about the future of the Olympics?

WOOD-TV sports director Jack Doles is covering the big event this weekend in Tampa, Florida, and he’s been to 10 Olympic Games in the past. He said he’s already seeing big changes when it comes to the Super Bowl, including holding virtual media days and limiting access to athletes and the field. He noted Kansas City’s team won’t arrive until the day before the game.

“So that’s a huge difference right there, obviously, trying to keep the Chiefs in their bubble in Kansas City,” Doles said. “Tampa Bay is going to continue to keep their players in their bubble here in Tampa, so we won’t see any of these players face to face until game day.”

He also noted attendance at the Super Bowl is reduced — the stadium will only be 25 to 30% full of 14,500 fans who purchased seats and 7,500 vaccinated healthcare workers who were given tickets. Precautions like mask-wearing and social distancing are in place.

We already know the Olympics will look very different, too, Doles noted. No more mingling in the Olympic Village for athletes — “Now athletes will get there, they’ll compete and they’ll be told to leave.”

Doles said he’d be interested to see what rules the International Olympic Committee puts in place when it comes to fan and athlete safety, including vaccinations.

“You’ve got the whole world coming in, and who knows what they bring in, so Japan’s got a big decision to make and they’ll have to make that pretty soon,” Doles said.

Meanwhile, Florida made Olympics headlines at the end of January, when its Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis sent the International Olympic Committee a letter suggesting the Games be moved to his state, WFLA reported. He noted it had already hosted the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and the NBA’s “bubble” for competition in Orlando.

An IOC spokesperson told WFLA it had not received the letter.

The latest from leaders and the situation in Japan

Olympics organizers maintain the event will still go on in July, dismissing a report earlier in January that sourced a government official saying the games would be canceled. That comes as people in Japan surveyed at the beginning of January showed skepticism that the Olympics would continue. The Tokyo Broadcasting System’s telephone poll asked 1,261 people if the Olympics can be held — 81% said “no” while 13% said “yes.” A Kyodo poll indicated 80.1% of the 715 telephone survey responders said it should be canceled or rescheduled. Neither poll had a margin of error, the Associated Press reported.

The Japan Times also noted the country is expected to have 75% of its people inoculated by October. Leaders had earlier outlined an ambitious goal of vaccinating a large part of the population before the Games begin.

‘I’m grateful.’ Boxer shares experience waiting for the Games

Richard Torrez is one international qualification away from making the Olympic team, and says both the US Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee have told him the Olympics are moving forward. He said he’s keeping his fingers crossed it stays that way.

“It’s definitely made me antsy,” Torrez said. “I thought last year was going to be the year that changed my life, so to get that pushed on hold — it definitely was a little, like, rattling, but I’m really thankful to be able to do it again. It’s kind of helped me focus on my goals and what I wanted to do.”

Despite the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and pushing back the Games, he said he believes he’s a better boxer now than he was last year.

“I’m actually kind of grateful for what this has given me,” Torrez said. “Some people can either sit and start eating — my dad says ‘You can be at home eating Twinkies if you want to, or you can get out and train.’ I got out and trained.”

He feels he’s been able to use this year to refine his skills and technique. He was able to compete internationally, winning gold medals in France and Spain, while taking numerous safety precautions. He’s in a “bubble” to avoid unnecessary exposure to COVID-19, wears a mask everywhere unless in the hotel or training, and has had “at least 20” COVID-19 tests.

He couldn’t take advantage of the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs because it was closed, but he and his coaches got creative. He currently trains in what used to be a Macy’s.

“It kind of makes me feel like I’m in a ‘Rocky’ situation,” he said.

COVID-19 variants’ effect

New COVID-19 variants that appear to be more transmissible have surfaced in countries around the world. Dr. Stephen Thomas, an infectious disease specialist in New York who was involved in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine trial, said there is cause for concern when it comes to the Olympics.

“But, I don’t think the overall principles are — concepts are any different whether it’s an old strain or a new variant strain,” Dr. Thomas said. “I think to be able to safely hold sporting events like this whether it’s, you know, a basketball game at a high school or the Olympics, there’s going to have to be a washout period for athletes. There’s going to have to be a quarantine period for athletes and the staff that are going to accompany them to the games and there’s going to have to be robust testing.”

Dr. Thomas reiterated the Olympics won’t look like they used to, with large opening and closing ceremonies and a busy Olympic Village.

“The business of competition, I think, is what it’s going to be, and you know — go there to your sport and then go home. It will have to be pretty cut and dry,” Dr. Thomas said.

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