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Covid-19 countermeasures for the Tokyo Olympics: clock ticking, but must embrace best practice to prevent the Games becoming a super-spreader event

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), local organisers and other responsible bodies must work with players and their representatives and urgently scale up efforts and measures to prevent the Games from becoming a Covid-19 super-spreader event.

Best practice guidance released by the World Players Association today contains practical examples of how this can be achieved through well-resourced countermeasures that put public and athlete health first.

World Players brings together 85,000 players through more than 100 player associations in over 60 countries. Its affiliates represent athletes who will be competing at the Games including in football, basketball, rugby, handball, cycling, volleyball and other disciplines.

World Players Executive Director, Brendan Schwab, said:

“Since the pandemic began, player associations throughout the world have negotiated and implemented comprehensive return to play protocols. Where players and athletes have been effectively represented, these protocols have enabled sport to proceed as safely as possible. On the other hand, player and athletes without effective representation have been exposed to unacceptable risks.”

Schwab added:

“The IOC and the organisers of the Games have both the opportunity and responsibility to work with the players and deliver international best practice at the Games. Embracing this will help build the trust and confidence athletes in particular require for a safe and successful Olympics.”

With less than 100 days to go until the Games is due to commence on 23 July 2021, three fundamental issues must be addressed (1) not undermining global efforts to contain and address the virus which continue to face immense challenges (2) measures to protect athlete and public health at the Games and (3) ensuring the integrity of athlete competition at the Games.

This comes amidst global uncertainty about efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, including; (1) new and more infectious variants of the virus which see many parts of the world experiencing ‘third’ and ‘fourth waves’ (2) the ongoing cancellation and postponement of sporting events and (3) issues connected to the global vaccine roll-out, including vaccine equity and concerns over vaccine effectiveness against new and emerging variants. Even where athletes may be able to get vaccinated, the highly variable status of vaccine inoculation and vaccine type at national levels means vaccination cannot be used to dispense with the best practice measures required at the Games.

WNBPA Executive Director and World Players Executive Committee member, Terri Jackson said:

“By following the science and listening to experts, we managed to finish an entire season without recording any positive cases. The measures we sought to implement provide a benchmark for all sporting competition – but we are all still learning and the Games being the pinnacle of global sport should be committed to taking these practices to an even higher level. All steps necessary must be taken to not only prevent the Games from becoming a ‘super-spreader’ event but to ensure they are as world class off the court as the players are on the court.”

Best practice examples highlighted throughout the guidance include:

  • Having and communicating a plan-b
  • No waivers for players
  • Full and comprehensive insurance
  • Safe international travel arrangements
  • Daily RT-PCR testing
  • Provision of wearable technology for contact tracing and dedicated SWAT teams for tracing
  • Hotel isolation facilities with a proper level of care and comfort for athletes
  • Tailored treatment and rehabilitation programs
  • On the ground mental health support
  • Centralised acquisition and distribution of masks (i.e athletes should not be responsible for their own supply)
  • Individual rooms for athletes and modifications to all indoor environments
  • Substantial revision of traditional game and competition formats with scheduling flexibility 

FIFPRO General Secretary and World Players Vice President, Jonas Baer-Hoffman, said:

“The IOC local organisers, public authorities, international federations (IFs) and National Olympic Committees each owe athletes a duty of care and must take all steps to fulfil their responsibilities through rigorous and well-resourced measures.”

World Players remains committed to ensuring players are protected at the Games to the maximum possible extent, including by sharing this expertise with the IOC and all other stakeholders to ensure a safe and successful Games – what athletes, the Japanese public and the global community ultimately hope for. Given the imminently approaching deadlines for the Games, proactive collaboration and meaningful engagement on these pressing issues of public and athlete health is urgently needed.


The World Players Association, part of UNI Global Union, is the exclusive global voice of organized players and athletes across professional sport. It brings together 85,000 players through more than 100 player associations in over 60 countries. Its role is to ensure that the voice of organized players is heard at the highest levels in the decision-making of international sport.


World Players

UNI Asia & Pacific