The IOC’s haphazard collection of rules wouldn’t stop a head cold, and Bach calls cracking a window a “countermeasure.” It would be laughable if you didn’t want to gag him with his own mask, which is probably made of silk.
Bach assured the world there was “zero risk” that the Olympics would cause coronavirus infections. The risks have mounted by the day, with 128 coronavirus cases before the first full day of competition. Bach has suddenly shifted his effervescent frothing to the other side of his mouth and declared that so many positive tests show the system is working.
“The technical term for that is bulls---,” global health expert Annie Sparrow said.
Sparrow, a professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, was one of four public health scholars who on July 1 publicly declared an “urgent need” for IOC officials to take better risk-management measures. In a piece in the New England Journal of Medicine, they identified several major flaws in the IOC’s supposed “playbooks” and recommended specific fixes. They were ignored.
They have watched cases surge and variants flourish in the run-up to the Olympics with mounting fear that the event is begging for global fallout. “It’s still a novel virus that is innovating and evolving,” Sparrow said. And the IOC’s handling of it “is hubris,” she added.
A year ago, the Tokyo Games were postponed with nothing close to this infection rate — and the variants hadn’t even appeared. “It’s like you canceled because of a grass fire and now you’re going to hold them in a forest fire,” said another of the piece’s co-authors, Michael Osterholm, who advised the NFL on its excellent protocols that resulted in just a .08 percent positivity rate. If the IOC was determined to hold the Games to salvage its revenue, then officials were at least obliged to employ all of the best practices and equipment available, right?
Instead, they went with window dressing. For months, Bach has coasted on the success of other mass sports events to insist that the Tokyo Games would be safe. The problem is, there is no comparison between the IOC’s shoddy con-for-cash “protocols” in Tokyo and the rigorous science-based systems that worked for the NFL or for the WNBA, which Sparrow advised during its 97-day bubble without a single coronavirus case.
One thing that made those pro league seasons a success was polymerase chain reaction testing every single day. Also, all competitors had wearable devices with proximity sensors — the best way to understand how transmission is happening and thus to stop it. By comparison, the IOC’s testing is crude and grossly inadequate. The IOC opted for cheaper, quicker antigen saliva tests. They are far less sensitive, will catch people only at the height of infection and could miss fully half of asymptomatic carriers.
Catching asymptomatic carriers is, of course, what you need to do if you’re trying to stop a galloping infection before it gets started in an Olympic Village of thousands of close-quartered people for two weeks. Would you be comfortable if you thought Olympic security would catch only half the weapons going through checkpoints?
As for contact tracing, the IOC went with a downloadable location app for phones, which one colleague in Tokyo describes as being “about 60 percent functional.” Exactly how many athletes do you suppose will carry their phones in their hands as they are doing karate, or boxing, or wrestling, or pole-vaulting?
“I mean first of all, it’s ridiculous,” Sparrow said. Secondly, a location app isn’t exactly much help in a clustered Olympic Village “where you’re pretty much exposed to everybody all the time,” Sparrow added.
If the IOC was serious about creating a safe Olympics, as opposed to a revenue grab, it would have put some energy into the basics — such as, say, PPE. But the IOC didn’t even bother to provide uniform protective equipment to competitors and staff. One simple best practice that has allowed successful mass sports events to come off without infecting large numbers of participants was that everyone wore N95 masks, including bus drivers. The IOC told everyone to bring their own.
The Pakistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan delegations squeezed through the stadium tunnel and into the Opening Ceremonies totally maskless. One of the more at-risk places in a sporting event? Stadium tunnels, where aerosolized particles concentrate. Nice job, IOC.
Novak Djokovic, the famous anti-vaxxer, has romped through the Olympic Village taking innumerable maskless photos with international competitors from all over, judging by his appearances on social media.
Not content with this slack recklessness, the IOC compounds the risk for everyone by making mendacious statements.
“None of the sports events in the world has such strict protocols for anti-covid like these Olympic Games,” Bach brayed last week. He knows better. These public health scholars held multiple calls and meetings with IOC officials, trying to urge better protocols on them.
“I can’t say anything was taken up,” Osterholm said.
If the IOC was honest — if it was interested in anything other than its casino runoff — it would acknowledge that there are unknowns piled upon unknowns in holding this event, risks piled upon risks. Unvaccinated athletes, among them 100-plus Americans of a delegation of more than 600, “are a crisis waiting to happen,” Osterholm said.
And what about delegations from countries that used Chinese vaccines, which may offer far less protection against variants? And what are the dangers of variants “mixing and matching,” Sparrow said grimly, and being taken home to 200 countries by athletes who don’t even know they have been exposed, with new variants arising?
If the IOC was legitimately well-intentioned, if it truly prioritized the health of the “dear athletes” as Bach called them, he would say: “Our data is incomplete. We don’t fully know what your protection level is.”
Here is what we do know. We know that there has been infection within the Olympic Village, and the room parties haven’t even started. We know this virus preys on weak links — and on the irresponsible and the arrogant.
And we know that whatever happens, Bach, with his usual feyness, will pronounce the Games a success.
“What is a successful Games?” Sparrow asked. “They might limp through it and get to the end of 16 days. But how many athletes will they sacrifice along the way?”