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Gladwell's Line: Touchdown in Tokyo ... Kiwi politicians exile Team New Zealand

by Richard Gladwell, 24 Jul 2021 14:53 BST 6 May 2021
Approaching the Japanese coast en route for Tokyo2020 © Richard Gladwell - / nz

Sail-World was part of a group of New Zealand media who arrived in Japan on Thursday night after an 11-hour flight from Auckland.

There we joined a large contingent of international media, and against all expectations, coverage of Tokyo2020 is almost proceeding as it would for a regular Olympiad. Not that any two Olympics are the same, and this one will be notable for have ing been conducted against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the number of COVID cases arising from the Olympics always seem to lead the headlines in New Zealand - there is little here that is different from life in New Zealand aside from the wearing of masks in the street by what appears to be 100% of the population.

Our trip through Narita airport took about three and a half hours - which is about as quick as it gets.

Most of the time was spent in an airport lounge/VIP area, as the Kiwi media awaited the outcome of their Saliva tests. Unsurprisingly the tests were negative - given that NZ hasn't had a case of community transmission since February 28, and we were on a direct flight from the Land of the Long White Cloud.

While the Kiwi media talk is along the lines that the Japanese population are against the staging of the Olympics, that was not evident at the airport - where the staff couldn't have been more obliging, helpful, apologetic and sincere.

Friday was the usual Ground Zero day, where luggage is broken down and and kit reassembled in our very compact accommodation, not unlike living on a yacht - where most of the international sailing media are staying.

Today, Saturday was my first at the venue with the racing proper due to get underway on Sunday.

I had expected to be required to be spending three days in isolation - which is standard. However, unlike New Zealand, Japan seems to have a more liberal view of the influx of Olympic teams, and especially media.

Those coming from countries deemed to be Red Zone (the UK is one) have to do three days isolation, on top of presenting 96 hour,and 72 hours Saliva tests and then being tested again on arrival at the airport.

Again, unlike New Zealand, Saliva testing is the only method used at the Olympics. All the media here have to provide a saliva test for the first three or four days, and then every fourth day after that. The tests are done using a self-administered kit, registered via QR code access website, and dropped off for collection at the media centre each day. Then the OCHA system (used by the Government of Japan to COVID manage the whole population) clicks in - if you test positive - then your Olympics are over, and if you hear nothing, you survive to fight another day.

On top of that, you have to record answers to a series of health questions, again via OCHA, and record your daily temperature reading. Touch temperature reading devices are located in many places, and we had to touch the finger pad on entry into the hotel, in the early hours of this morning.

We all have to file Activity Plans, approved by the Government of Japan, which nominate the places where you are allowed to visit. We are tracked using OCHA to make sure we don't stray.

In the case of the sailing media we are restricted to our hotel, the sailing venue at Enoshima, and Tokyo2020 provided transport to move between the two bubbles. In the first 14 days we are not allowed to use any public transport services. We are allowed out for 15 minutes per day to visit a nearby food shop, and that is it. But that is all that would happen at a normal Olympic Regatta, and is really not a lot different from what occurred in Qingdao in 2008.

It is all very comprehensive and impressive, without being too intrusive.

Nothing like New Zealand where the fear of COVID is marketed daily. The OCHA system is completely computer controlled. Mid-morning I got an email asking advising that my daily health check had not been filed, (which takes all of 30 secs to complete)

The good news for me was that being double vaccinated, and coming from Auckland on a direct flight, I was deemed to be low risk, and was not required to self-isolate at all, but did so by choice, today.

Had I followed my original flight plan via Australia, I doubt that I'd have been given similar licence.

Tokyo2020, should not be looked at through a lens of how many positive COVID cases occur, in the Japanese population, or the Olympic visitors, but from the perspective of whether this three-day isolation system, overseen by the ubiquitous OCHA, delivers what it sets out to achieve.

If this system does work, and perform under this super-test, then the way is open for the resumption of international sport, tourism and events.

Of course. a visitor has to sign up to a significant level of personal intrusion, but most would accept that as a small price to pay, for a resumption of life as we knew it.

And, of course, there is no compulsion - you always have the right to stay at home. The upside is that there is no scarce and expensive MIQ, and that layer of population control, along with its attendant political narrative, is gone.

Politicians put the boot into Team New Zealand.

The flash-flood of America's Cup reports released last Thursday was political point-scoring at its most obvious.

America's Cup Events Ltd's report - with one exception, was largely unreported by the mainstream media - was an impressive document, and a must read for any venue seeking to host the 37th America's Cup.

Devoid of shonky accounting the ACE report looked at what worked, what didn't, and what should be done for the next Cup.

The AC36 audience and reach figures were published earlier. While it is easy to cast dispersions on any viewership reports - it is also quite a serious issue to publish numbers that are inflated or misleading.

The issue being that for an event like the America's Cup which is ongoing, those figures are going to be relied on, in the future by any team that seeks commercial sponsorship. If the numbers are significantly overstated, then the Event's credibility is shot - and the Cup will become a small game played out between a few, fickle billionaires. Some would argue that is the case already, but it is not a formula for expansion.

The ploy in the NZ Government and Auckland Council report of adding infrastructure cost into the America's Cup event cost, is at best a novel accounting approach. Why should the cost of replacing and extending stormwater systems under Wynyard Wharf be tagged as an America's Cup cost?

The figures for the 36th America's Cup are well known - $213million for the Infrastructure - shared between the Government and Council for the development of a Council owned asset, and the $40million Hosting Fee, paid by the NZ Government - which partially covered (50-60%) of covering the Event.

The infrastructure development, came in below budget and on time, despite a very short period for cost estimation and planning. The project was undertaken by an alliance of construction partners under the control of a very able and competent project manager.

So where did the cost blow-out?

The short answer is that it didn't. All that has been done is in the Council/Govt for a different method of accounting to be used, which effectively treats the cost of construction of new assets as expenses. Those who conducted the review will claim that their purpose was to show the true cost of the event. It includes items such as a $1.5million estimate for the carbon footprint.

What happens from here, is reasonably obvious. The political scenery has been arranged so that the next Cup, which should have staged in Auckland, will exit stage left. Where it heads to next will be revealed on September 17.

In the meantime stay tuned for the latest action from the Olympics. Sail-World will be on the water at Enoshima, bringing you our perspective on how the racing action unfolds.