Burning phones and loanered laptops. Quarantine training centers and a balloon the size of a small city. Takeoff tests and arrival tests and daily tests. Like this. Many. tests.
Every Olympic presents barriers, from distance to language to politics. But those tasked with transporting teams, coaches, athletes and gear rarely encounter an obstacle course like those currently testing their organizational skills, resources and patience.
Call them the Logistics Games, because no Olympics in history has been this difficult.
The reasons, of course, are painfully obvious. The coronavirus pandemic has made Byzantine sanitation measures par for the course at any sporting event and at nearly every national border. But such rules are even more intense in China, where the government, which will host the Winter Olympics, which begins on Friday, has taken a “zero Covid” stance on managing the virus.
Even before the pandemic, China wasn’t exactly an easy place to navigate for international travelers. Add to that the competition kicked off just six months after the closing of the Summer Games in Tokyo, which was delayed by a year near the start of the pandemic, and the entire sports world has a split migraine recipe.
Planning, then, has become an Olympic sport in its own right. For example, US officials chose to ship containers full of athletic gear, office supplies and even food directly to Beijing from the Summer Games in Tokyo last summer, rewriting an established playbook due to the unusually fast turnaround. Managers in each country stayed up at night to scan databases of approved testing sites, and coaches worked to calm the athletes. trying to hold your nerves.
All of them did so while simultaneously becoming fluent in PCR tests and QR codes, and in a few cases the precise seating arrangements of modern commercial airplanes.
Luc Tardif, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, said the whole situation was “a nightmare”.
As an example, let’s take the act of flying a team to Beijing. At past Olympics—even last summer’s Tokyo Games—participants booked a flight on an existing commercial route to the host city.
For these Games, international visitors had to reserve seats for so-called limited temporary flights – special Olympic routes organized by the organizing committee through approved travel hubs such as Hong Kong, Paris, Singapore, and Tokyo – often at considerable expense, because for dozens of passengers There are no direct flights to Beijing.
For safety and logistical convenience, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, like most of the larger national Olympic committees, chose to charter its own charter aircraft instead. Delta Airbus SE A350 type jet departed from Los Angeles to Beijing on 27 January. Rick AdamsUS Olympic official whose job includes oversight of operations, arranging the private jet was just the beginning.
Adams and his crew had to spend hours arranging and rearranging the seating plan for each passenger, figuring out a configuration that would place the athletes (the most valuable cargo) in the least trafficked areas of the plane at once, and disperse the athletes from each. Sport evenly throughout the cabin to avoid a large part of any team being disabled by close contact protocols.
“I would say I am very familiar with the fuselage of a large Delta jet,” Adams said.
At the same time, other USOPC personnel were working with individual sports federations to collect American athletes from the various parts of the world where they competed and trained, and transport them safely to Los Angeles a few days before the flight. But then they faced another logistical challenge: Anyone entering China for the Olympics must take two negative PCR tests from a small list of approved labs within 96 hours of departure.
Obstacles like this felt particularly deep in ice hockey, when the athlete pool was plunged into chaos in December when the NHL announced its players would not play in Beijing.
International hockey officials have struggled to organize coronavirus tests from a specific (but limited) list of testing sites that Chinese authorities have approved to run scans, after filling their roster with substitutes and training newly discovered Olympians on strict protocols for Beijing.
“If you have a Latvian player playing in Switzerland, you can imagine it if you have a Swiss player playing in Sweden,” said Tardif, noting that some players had to travel more than 200 miles to reach an approved testing center.
And those were just health concerns. Fears of surveillance and cybercrime in China have prompted many national teams to create digital security plans for their delegations. Many, including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the United States, eventually urged their athletes to purchase rental phones and computers before the Games and to leave their personal devices – their lifelines to friends and family on the go – at home.
“Like computers, data and apps on mobile phones are subject to malicious intrusion, infection, and data security breaches,” the USOPC wrote in a recent advisory to their athletes.
“Despite all measures implemented to protect systems and data brought into China, it must be assumed that all data and communications in China can be monitored, compromised or blocked.”
The distasteful task of organizing all of this—travel, tests, equipment, and everything else—has fallen to a group of unfortunate spirits in each delegation who have been tasked with one of the Games’ most punishing job titles: Covid liaison officer. There is one for every nation, news organization, sponsor, and other delegation that travels to the Games. These people have always devoted hundreds of hours to understanding the complex rules and often rapidly evolving procedures created for these Olympics.
For example, responsibility for the Slovakian teams fell to Zuzana Tomcikova, who was the goalkeeper of the country’s women’s ice hockey team at the Vancouver Games in 2010. Overseeing current teams’ travel and testing arrangements, biking nonstop in the bushes Paperwork and Excel spreadsheets to keep everything neat or as tidy as possible.
He acknowledged that getting everyone to the Games smoothly would feel like a minor miracle.
“When they have all the athletes in China,” Tomchikova said, “I think I will be the happiest.
But things are no longer simple in Beijing. The most important part of the Olympic Covid protocol is the so-called closed loop – a balloon environment in which no participant can leave at any point during their stay. The closed loop consists of more than a dozen competition venues, three media centres, three athletes’ villages, and dozens of hotels, each isolated from the public, guarded by the police, and connected by a private transport network created for the Games.
Other sporting events, such as those organized by the NBA and Champions League, have tried bubbles. But nothing on this scale.
At the Tokyo Olympics, for example, workers, volunteers, and journalists based in Tokyo were allowed to return home when their days were up. International visitors, initially confined mostly to their hotels, were allowed to roam the city after a two-week semi-quarantine period.
In Beijing, everyone — athletes; Authorities; journalists; Tens of thousands of cooks, cleaners and volunteers, who are somehow the logistical lifeblood of the Games, will work and live in the bubble. All will be tested for Covid daily.
Beijing organizers did not give exact numbers of the population in the closed-loop system, but an official count of daily tests conducted earlier last week on days when only a small number of international visitors arrived gave an idea of how many staff there would be. Including: 38,441 tests on Sunday, 41,810 tests on Monday.
According to Pierre Ducrey, the IOC’s director of operations, with “somewhere north of 30,000” participants expected from abroad, the testing effort will soon become roughly equivalent to giving throat swabs to the entire population of a small city—for example, Santa Fe, NM—every month for a month. day.
Ducrey knows this better than most. He’s been in the bubble since the beginning of January.
“Things are getting much more complicated in a pandemic environment,” he said.
field blind and Tarik Panja contributing reporting.