Let the Bubblicious Games Begin!
THIS time next month, the tangerine sun will have set on a supremely unpredictable NFL Season free of any shoe-ins and Cupid will be busy stuffing his quiver with shiny, 24K golden arrows destined for beating emoji hearts everywhere. We’ll also happen to be in the throes of the Beijing Winter Olympics further testing our exhaustion in things Olympics; this coming off the much-delayed Tokyo Summer Olympics which quietly concluded just 6 months ago. While a fluke of the calendar and the onset of a firey pandemic induced the rare possibility of Winter and Summer Olympic athletes practically catching glimpses of one another, united is our unyielding collective reverence for all Games participants. The steely determination, the unwavering purpose, the selfless Sportsmanship, the unthinkable sacrifice. In normal times, these traits truthfully paint portraits of athletes-as-patriots. On the backhill descent of a global Pandemic, we can safely add Logistics Acrobat to this sturdy, venerable list of descriptors. Beyond unending, relentless training in pursuit of Greatness, Olympics athletes are now faced with byzantine and ruthless demands designed to keep Covid OFF the Field of Play and athletes healthfully UPON it. Well-intentioned, a fool’s errand, dramatic overreach: somewhere in between or all of the above. Whatever the case, Olympian athletes are left to navigate a grueling pre-arrival gauntlet just to heed their Calling. Zeus is recoiling somewhere high up in the blinding Greek billowy clouds at what’s to transpire in little more than three weeks at the Games that purport to be held in his honor. Welcome to the Games of XXIV Winter Olympiad…possibly.
But before Beijing, let’s quickly recall Tokyo. It’s called a Bubble and much like its name suggests, Tokyo Olympics organizers sought the Bubble strategy as the only feasible means for hosting a Covid-free Summer Olympics. It’s a strategy that dilutes much of what the Olympics stand for: Building a peaceful world by education through Sport, mutual understanding, friendship, solidarity and fair play. It’s also a strategy that generally worked. Firstly, all visitors to the Games were required to undergo a strict 14-day isolation period. After this, a green light flashed and the welcome mat unfurled all the way to Emerald City. Participants were not required to be vaccinated, nor sequestered if they were not. They were asked to remain in Games-affiliated venues and were left of their own accord to self-police. Athletes, media and volunteers were allowed free rein with the outside world while on the ground in Tokyo with little in the way of official credentialing. Athletes had to pack their bags and head to the airport just as soon as their evens concluded. Local news media and Olympic work forces were permitted to commute to and from their homes and there were to be no spectators at any events. Tokyo, in essence, deployed a weak-willed Bubble written in invisible ink. By plan or luck, the Bubble paid rich dividends. Of 20,000 participants (athletes/media/volunteers), only 400 cases of Covid appeared. Bronze Medal efforts, Gold Medal results.
The Beijing Games will be of a completely different stripe, completely unrecognizable when compared to the Games that took place 2088 miles, one time zone and a world away. Beijing Olympic organizers — naturally — are tightly toeing the national Zero-Tolerance Covid policy they’ve been remanded to. Eager to once more bathe China in the best possible light on an attention-getting worldwide stage, there will be no stopping the Winter Games. And so determined, a Bubble like no other will be tightly inflated — and enforced. Entering the Bubble for anyone will not be easy. While a vaccination will not technically be required, those without one will for forced into a 21-day solitary quarantine. Details on how and where this plays out are clear as mud and don’t even think about training for your event; you’ll be allowed no outside contact. If you’re unvaccinated and headed for the Games, you’re already late — you should already be in Chinese solitary confinement. If you’re vaccinated, Welcome In! You’ll just need to present TWO negative tests upon arrival: one from your point of departure and another when you land at the Beijing airport. Next, once admitted into the Bubble, you’ll be subject to daily tests and you must submit health reports every day via a mandatory App downloaded to your mobile device. Better still, this App will track your movements and for the privilege you’ll be allowed no opt-out option. Should you be unlucky enough to contract Covid AT the Games, you’ll be transported to a high-security Government hospital where you won’t be allowed to leave until TWO PCR tests render negative 24 hours apart. This can take weeks potentially. But let’s put a pin in that grisly scenario. The impermeable Beijing Bubble is designed to prevent such a ghastly not-so-hypothetical.
The Beijing Bubble will encompass all Games-related areas including arrival and departure, transport, accommodation, catering, competitions, and the Opening and Closing ceremonies. Once accepted into the Bubble and having submitted your daily negative test and whereabouts tracked in real-time, participants will only be allowed to move between Games-related venues for training, events and work. A dedicated transportation system will ferry Bubble residents to and fro. Entire hotels hosting media and support staff will reside within this Bubble staffed by residents subject to the same onerous restrictions just as every one else. Athletes will not be permitted contact with Olympic judges, referees and media unless separated by a plastic barrier. Take THAT cross-infection. There’s even word that all-day armpit monitors will be deployed silently triggering an alarm to some remote command center should a fever arise. Fully realized, the Winter Games will be completely walled-off from mainland China with vitals monitored and tracked in real-time. One last item, this one for the thousands of Chinese residents volunteering to work inside the Beijing Bubble. At the conclusion of the Games, each will have to test-out of the Bubble AND undergo a 14-day mandatory isolation period in Government-run quarantine centers. There will we spectators, however, at all Olympic events. Though limited to mainland Chinese residents who will have no contact with any Games staff (thusly avoiding the Bubble restrictions), spectators can clap but not cheer. So Happy Days for ALL!
The way organizers tell it, the Beijing Bubble will be forged in cast iron where Tokyo’s was loosely strung together with overcooked pasta. It’s understandable the lengths to which officials will stretch to ensure participant safety, especially in light of raging infectious disease. There are differing modes and degrees of technique in returning to a degree of normalcy in all aspects of everyday life. We’ve all personally witnessed and experienced them in action. The World of Sports is no different. As we’ve seen with the muted success of baseball, football, basketball and hockey over the past few years, Covid-containment strategies are comprised of art, science and rubber cement in equal parts. In this manner, the spirit of good-natured competition barrels forward with technocratic boilerplate — for the most part — taking a back seat to the Main Card on the main stage. In the Beijing Bubble sadly, these roles are reversed. The Games will be tolerated within a manufactured, calculated and sterile environment where temporary residents strain to recall why they agreed to participate in the first place. It’s an environment where athletes (and anyone within the Bubble) wrestle with the real fear of a daily positive test — and the opacity of what comes next in a foreign Communist land — MORE than not medaling at their competition. In Beijing, athletes will need to squeeze past countless burdensome speed bumps in addition to keeping focus on self, sport and determination. It’s not easy but if Beijing Olympic Organizers needn’t be bothered with the accommodation of Olympic Spirit, count on Olympic athletes to summon it. We will all tune into the Winter Games to be inspired by and proud of the athletes on-screen. The Olympic Spirit will spill forth precisely because of the athletes who sing it as a full-throated anthem. In a sense I suppose, the Beijing Bubble will have played a role. Or it might have just marched in front of the parade. You be the judge. Zeus might still be recoiling up in the clouds but he’ll be smiling at the result.