Olympic Games get underway in Tokyo with Czech athletes sidelined by Covid

The opening ceremony of the 32nd Olympic Games began in Tokyo at one o’clock on Friday afternoon (Prague time), in a stadium designed to hold tens of thousands but without a single sports fan in attendance, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Also missing from the “Parade of Nations” were heartbroken Czech athletes and officials who had tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving in Japan.

Following speeches by International Olympic Committee members and other dignitaries, and performances by Japanese singers and dancers highlighting the country’s history and culture, athletes began entering the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo according to an order long dictated by sporting tradition.

As the Games’ originators, the Greeks entered first, while as the hosts, the Japanese will enter last. The other 204 delegations in the hour-long “Parade of Nations” entered in alphabetical order, based on their country names in the local language.

Petra Kvitová | Photo: Kateřina Šulová,  ČTK

Carrying the flag for the Czech Republic will be two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitová and Chicago Bulls point guard Tomáš Satoranský, who also has the honour of leading his homeland’s basketball team to their first Olympics since independence.

Watching the spectacle in isolation were four Czech Olympic team athletes – cyclist Michal Schlegel, volleyball players Ondřej Perušič and Markéta Nausch Sluková, and table tennis player Pavel Širuček – as well as a team coach and a doctor – who it later emerged had not been vaccinated against Covid-19.

They had all travelled to the Olympics together on a charter plane last Friday. Most, reportedly, removed their respirators as soon as the plane took off. Exactly what transpired is now under investigation, Czech Olympic Committee chairman Jiří Kejval told Czech Radio.

“There must have been some human error, non-compliance with some protocols. So, we have launched an investigation in cooperation with foreign experts and hope to identify what happened during all the phases – before and during the flight, and upon arrival.

“Within 14 days, we hope to know exactly where mistakes were made, who is to blame. On one hand, we can learn from these mistakes so that in future nothing like this happens again. At the same time, it is a great tragedy for the athletes.”

Jiří Kejval | Photo: Tomáš Vodňanský,  Czech Radio

Kejval noted that, apart from the overwhelming disappointment of the athletes unable to compete, there is shared frustration as to uncertainty over the fate of other competitors. That includes those forced to leave the Olympic Village into quarantine.

“It must be said that we have not always had clear guidelines from the organisers or rather those who decide not only about the sick athletes but also about who is defined as having been in close contact, who must stick to an extraordinary regime during training.

“But it is too late for some options… It’s all very sad – this didn't happen without tears. But we did agree to move people on that flight out of the Olympic Village to ensure the virus doesn't spread further.”

In total, some 115 Czech sports people travelled to the Tokyo for what are still being billed as the 2020 Olympics, though they were delayed a year by the pandemic and will be unlike any Games seen before.