Thursday, July 8, 2021

Living in the Olympic bubble (and other upcoming challenges)

I leave for Tokyo in a week and a half and I do so with very mixed emotions. Normally I am super excited to get to the Olympic city and start my preparation for the 3 week adventure.  But this time around is really different. I am still excited to go, but this is also mixed with the apprehension of an Olympics with major pandemic precautions. 

Just this morning it was announced that there will be no fans at the Olympic Games, and that Tokyo is under a state of emergency. This will make this a VERY strange Olympics to be attending. I am imagining walking through an empty Olympic Park, shooting in empty stadiums, hearing no cheering, not seeing the thousands of happy spectators from around the world. This is going to be so weird!

It appears that I will indeed have to quarantine in my hotel room for the first 3 days in Tokyo. According to the recent documents from the Tokyo Organizing Committee (TOCOG), I will only be allowed outside the room for 15 minute increments (if approved) and for necessary exceptions. Normally, the first thing I do when I get to the Olympic city is check into my room and head straight for the Main Press Center (MPC). It is there that I get my photo vest, my locker and get the lay of the land. I usually visit some of the venues where I will spend the bulk of my time. I get lockers in those locations and learn about the shooting positions, press room layout, and restrictions. Now I need to figure out if this is considered necessary travel. And the other big questions is: Since I arrive 3 days before the Opening Ceremony, will I be able to attend this? I will be really disappointed if I can't photograph this and share it with you all.

I saw a reporter from NBC on television this morning and he was talking about the Covid precautions. He said that NBC has been very strict with the protocol in their studios, but that Tokyo was a thousand times more restrictive. 

In the days leading up to my flight, I have to get Covid tests 96 hours and 72 hours prior my departure. Then, when I land in Tokyo, I will have to go through 10 checkpoints and have another Covid test before being let out of the airport. They say that this process at the airport could take 3 hours or more.

The latest "Press playbook" restricts me from using any public transportation, taking any walks, or eating at any restaurants for the first 14 days of my stay. Basically, I will be doing everything inside the Olympic bubble for two weeks. will probably not see any photos of downtown Tokyo for the first two weeks of my stay there.  It is so strict that there are security people at every press hotel who will determine when and were we go. If I do need to buy something from a local store, I will be given a strict 15 minute time period to get there are back. 

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I will be required to have a tracking app on my phone with location kept on 24 hours a day. If my phone's battery were to die or location gets turned off, I will be in violation of the Playbook and could be investigated. The Playbook goes as far as to say that "the people of Japan will be paying close attention to your every move...and your activity may be photographed and shared on social media by bystanders." 

After my 14 days have passed, I will be allowed to move more freely, but I will be required to fill out a "Going Out Record" with my room number, time of departure and other information. And then when I get back to the hotel, I will complete the record with the time of my return.

We will also be tested for Covid every day for the first three days in the country and then at regular intervals after that. 

From what I am hearing now, it sounds like there will be a lot less photographers at this Olympic Games. The IOC has cut back the allocations of certain countries and corporate entities as recently as last week.

Not only will there be fewer photographers, but the support will also be much less than ever before. If you have followed my Olympic adventures from years past, you saw the room full of cameras, lenses and other accessories that Canon (and other companies) would bring as loaners. That will not be the case this time around. Due to contact tracing, TOCOG does not want items being used by different photographers each day. That means that I will be traveling to Japan with A LOT more equipment than I usually have.

And as if all this is not a challenge enough, I received an email from United airlines a couple of weeks ago telling me that I had been moved from my direct flight home to a flight going through LAX with a 5 hour layover. I know I am going to be exhausted after these 3 weeks, and adding 7 more hours to my trip is not going to go well for me. I called United last week to find out why that had happened to see if there was a better option. The United employee looked on her computer and said "that direct flight is still going - you must have been mistakingly moved by our computer system." And then she said "I will put you back on that flight." Just as I was thanking her for doing this, she informed me that there were only middle seats left. I told her that I had booked that flight 9 months before and had a great seat. She could not help me, and a supervisor couldn't either. I even wrote about this to the CEO of United and never got a response back. Having traveled with United for almost 2 million miles, I was hoping to be treated a little better than that!

Ahhh - the challenges are building, but I am still looking forward to getting to Tokyo and getting to work. 


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JCusack said...

WOW, I personally would be nervous up till the first event and first set of shots . Geeze I really wish you all the best , you always make the best of any situation. Glad you are in a hotel and not a half built press housing building sharing with three others and one shower curtain, lol . Be safe , do you best to enjoy what you can and so glad you are so talented that you are going . Safe trip , will be following you , not with tracker just on the blog . They each have been a different adventure, this is just a really different adventure. Good luck my friend

Arjen said...

Good luck Jeff, we will follow along from our computer screens.
Still interested to see what shots you will come away with.
And, if it all becomes too much, just give me a call!



Jose C. said...

Thank your, an interesting read on your experiences coming to Japan.

One thing you might not know, is the summer heat, maybe your hotel room isn't so bad at night.
All the best and looking forward to your posts as a New York in Osaka.