As we inched forward in another indeterminable queue in Terminal 3 of Tokyo’s Haneda Airport I thought of the Willie Nelson’s hit song ‘Nobody said it was going to be easy’.
It is too late for regrets now, though. We had a fair idea of what we were letting ourselves in for when we signed up for the gig. There is no point in complaining about hitting the wall in a marathon having volunteered to run in the race.
Still, this is like no other Olympics. Just as the Covid-19 pandemic was on the point of engulfing the world in the spring of 2020, the Japanese deputy Prime Minister landed himself in hot water when he suggested the Tokyo Games were “cursed”.
The gaffe-prone Taro Aso said that the Olympics appeared to be blighted by world events every 40 years.
Japan was due to host the 1940 summer and winter Olympics, but World War II resulted in their cancellation. In 1980 the Moscow Games were hit by an international boycott led by USA, China and Japan.
“It’s a problem that’s happened every 40 years – it’s the cursed Olympics, and that’s a fact,” he suggested.
Though his comments were roundly condemned at the time, he might have had a point. Ultimately, the 2020 Games were postponed for a year, but they remain blighted by the pandemic.
Only an organisation as pompous as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) would have the audacity to stage a global festival of sport not just in the middle of the worst pandemic in a century, but in a city where a state of emergency exists.
Even IOC President Thomas Bach cannot predict with any degree of certainty what will happen over the next few weeks. Already, the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the Olympic Village is rising.
Essentially, the IOC has forced the Japanese government to stand by their 2013 commitment to host the Games.
The IOC will pick up billions from the global sale of the TV rights. The US network NBC agreed to pay £2 billion for the Winter Games in Pyeongchang in 2018 and the Tokyo Summer Games.
Meanwhile, the people of Japan will be left with a gigantic debt. They had hoped to recoup an estimated £700m in ticket sales but the action will now take place virtually behind closed doors because of concerns that the Games could become a super-spreader for Covid-19.
Japan has every right and reason to be cautious about letting international visitors into their country. Nonetheless, in my limited contact with locals so far, they have gone out of their way to be courteous and helpful.
My journey to Tokyo began when I walked into Terminal 1 of Dublin Airport last Monday morning just before 9am. Twenty-six hours later, I was turning the key of the door in my hotel room in downtown Tokyo.
Actually, the journey via Frankfurt including a five-hour trek through the terminal in Tokyo was not nearly as stressful as the weeks leading up to my departure.
Every journalist here will have nightmares for months about an app called OCHA which had to be downloaded to our mobile phones in order to comply with the health regulations being imposed by the Japanese authorities.
Journalists tend to leave everything to the last minute and to compound matters, most of us have limited technical computer skills.
But at times it seems it would be more straight-forward to travel to North Korea via the moon than fill out the myriad of online documents and upload them to a variety of websites which, to my admittedly untutored eye, seemed notoriously difficult to access.
The crunch issue was an online document called the Activity Plan, where we had to input our schedule for the first 14 days of the trip.
Originally, the authorities wanted journalists entering the country to self-isolate for 14 days, which would have effectively meant the majority would not have travelled. So Japan relented. We now have to quarantine in our hotel for three days but still account for our movements for 14 days
It sounds more complicated than it is. We merely had to state what Olympics venues we planned to be working at. Officially, we are not allowed travel anywhere else and we’re also banned from using public transport. And big brother is watching us via a location tracker on our phone.
The completed Activity Plan had to be uploaded to a specific site to await approval which, if forthcoming, would kick-start the OCHA app which became the Olympic equivalent of an admission ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory.
The big problem was that few of us could upload it. And it would have been easier to contact St Peter than have anybody in Tokyo reply to an email.
In the end, the Japanese relented and all the accredited journalists were allowed to enter regardless of whether the infamous OCHA app was fully operational.
The most nerve-jingling moment at the airport was waiting for close to an hour for the results of a saliva Covid-19 test. Spitting into a test tube wasn’t exactly what Baron de Coubertin had on his mind when he launched the modern Olympics in 1896. And it’s no fun doing the test after alighting from a ten-and-a-half-hour flight severely dehydrated.
The testing doesn’t end there. All journalists in quarantine do a daily self-administered saliva test before breakfast. Already, there are signs of the system cracking under the strain. On Wednesday our samples weren’t collected until 6.30pm. One unfortunate colleague didn’t eat all day as he waited for the delivery of the test kit.
But a worst fate befell a British journalist employed by the website ‘Inside the games’. He was identified as a close contact of a Covid-19 positive passenger on his flight. Although he passed all his tests, he faces 14 days in quarantine.
Who knows what the next two and bit weeks will bring? At its most benign, it will be an interesting experience. But it could have tragic consequences as well for the population of Tokyo – the majority of whom have not been vaccinated against Covid-19.