Nancy Gillen

Preparations for Tokyo 2020 continue, even if doubts over the staging of the event linger. It is interesting to see how International Federations and National Olympic Committees are getting ready for the Games amidst the uncertainty.

The situation is no different for the Olympic Federation of Ireland, which recently held a "Tokyo Ready" media briefing. Team Ireland Chef de Mission Tricia Heberle gave an update on proposed COVID-19 countermeasures and plans for flights and pre-Games training camps. She also underlined the importance of athletes "taking responsibility" at Tokyo 2020.

"It is going to be very important that there is a strong understanding of the need to keep people safe and to work to the countermeasures in every single environment, with a high personal responsibility for making sure that happens," Heberle said.

"It is not just about what the Organising Committee ask us to do when we are in the village, but it is about what we do every day, and a high sense of taking responsibility.

"I am very confident of what our sports have actually experienced, and what the athletes have gone through and are currently going through, especially now they are starting to travel. I think we are going to be in a very strong position, and I have no doubt, people will actually understand the responsibilities they will have coming into the Games."

Her comments were pertinent and have come at a time when athletes have been showing a real lack of personal responsibility during sporting events. Perhaps the most shocking example came earlier this week as the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrated their first World Series title since 1988.

Justin Turner had been removed midway through game six on Wednesday (October 28) after receiving a positive COVID-19 test result. His withdrawal meant he did not celebrate with the Dodgers as they clinched victory, but he did return to the field an hour after the game. Images of Turner hugging his team mates and posing for a photo with his mask around his chin were shared widely and he was rightly criticised.

Justin Turner, right, shakes hands with a colleague despite knowing he has coronavirus ©Getty Images
Justin Turner, right, shakes hands with a colleague despite knowing he has coronavirus ©Getty Images

Another clear breach of COVID-19 protocol occurred last week and forced the cancellation of a sporting fixture. England were set to take on the Barbarians in the run-up to the resumption of the Six Nations, with a COVID-19-secure bubble created to ensure the match could take place at Twickenham Stadium.

This was compromised by 12 Barbarians players, however, who left their hotel in London to have dinner. It is also thought several players visited a pub on a separate occasion. After an investigation, Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney was forced to cancel the match in order to protect the health and safety of the England players.

There are numerous other examples, including an incident involving American Sam Querrey before the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) 500 event in St Petersburg. Querrey, his wife and eight-month-old son tested positive for COVID-19 in the run-up to the tournament. The family was initially requested to quarantine for 14 days at the five-star St Petersburg Four Seasons hotel.

They reportedly received a call informing them they would be examined by a doctor and could be hospitalised should they display systems. Due to alleged concerns the family could be separated in a foreign country, Querrey reportedly arranged for a private jet to take them across the Russian border to a "nearby European country" which does not require a negative test for entry. This was an obvious breach of the COVID-19 protocol put in place by the ATP to allow tennis events to take place safely.

Of course, no one can forget the complete disregard Novak Djokovic showed to social distancing measures when he organised the Adria Tour in June. It was not just Serbian world number one Djokovic, however, with other tennis stars such as Germany’s Alexander Zverev showing a serious lack of judgement by going out to party immediately after the disastrous tournament.

Since the resumption of sport, there have been many examples of competitors showing a lack of personal responsibility. Of course, there have also been a large number of successful sporting events held in a COVID-19-secure environment where athletes have stuck to protocol. Competitions such as the Tour de France and the US Open largely went by without a hitch.

With Tokyo 2020 set to take place amid a global health crisis, it is more important than ever that all attending following the guidelines ©Getty Images
With Tokyo 2020 set to take place amid a global health crisis, it is more important than ever that all attending following the guidelines ©Getty Images

There are 15,000 athletes set to compete at the Olympic and Paralympic Games next year, however. Will the International Olympic Committee (IOC), International Paralympic Committee and Tokyo 2020 be able to completely trust each and every one to toe the line?

Heberle is right - athletes must show a high level of personal responsibility to ensure Tokyo 2020 takes place safely. Even a slight breach could case an outbreak of infection and have a disastrous domino effect on the Games. Every athlete must be on their best behaviour, but this is not something that can be guaranteed.

Take Ryan Lochte at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, for example. The American swimmer claimed that he and team mates Jimmy Feigen, Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger had been held up and robbed by men posing as police while celebrating a gold medal in the Brazilian city.

Brazilian police claimed that Lochte had fabricated the story and that the four swimmers had actually vandalised a petrol station and were asked to pay for damages by security guards. Lochte lost his commercial sponsors and received a 10-month ban, with his compatriots handed four-month bans.

Just because an athlete is competing at the Olympic or Paralympic Games, it does not mean they are on their best behaviour. This time around, however, the IOC and Tokyo 2020 will need sports stars to show high personal responsibility more than ever.