COVID concerns mean new mask rules for medal ceremony
- Athletes will remove their masks when they receive Olympic medals, allowing photos to document the ceremony.
- But at the Tokyo Summer Games, there was confusion over mask-wearing.
- So there could be confusion or confusion about the rules – or refusal to follow them.
When the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics medalists walk to the awards podium, they will have received marching orders regarding face masks.
Athletes are allowed to remove their masks for photos capturing the gold, silver and bronze medalists on their respective podiums. Then they are required to put their mask back on and leave the platform. Later, they can take quick no-mask photos with their own teams.
Whether all Olympians will follow these rules, set by the International Olympic Committee as part of its COVID-19 prevention protocols, remains to be seen. There is precedent for breaking the rules.
At last year’s Tokyo Summer Olympics, the first wave of athletes to step onto the awards podium were asked to follow the IOC’s rule of keeping their masks on throughout the ceremony.
Some athletes took their masks off — or were told they could take them off — to take photos with their fellow medalists, as multiple media outlets including NBC News, Reuters and Yahoo News reported at the time. Others took off their masks for interviews.
Seeing confusion with the rule, the IOC relaxed its regulations at the Summer Games to “enable athletes to have an image for the media that captures their faces and their emotions at a unique time in their sporting career”, said the committee at the time.
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Mask Rules for Olympic Medals 2022
For the Winter Olympics, the IOC has asked athletes to wear masks during the awards ceremony. Before stepping onto the podium, the officials will signal them to remove their masks. Athletes will receive their medals without masks, allowing the media to photograph the ceremony.
Then, before the athletes leave the podium, they will be signaled to put their masks back on. “The Victory Ceremony protocol has been adapted to allow athletes to share their emotions with the world during this once-in-a-lifetime experience in their sporting career, while helping the media to fully capture the moment,” writes the IOC.
After the ceremony is over, the IOC said, athletes can remove their masks to take “individual or team photos while maintaining social distancing from media and other medalists/teams”.
Masks, no hugs, but condoms in Beijing?
Athletes at the Winter Olympics face even stricter COVID-19 precautions than those at the Tokyo Summer Olympics last year.
All Games participants – Chinese athletes and volunteers – must remain in Beijing’s closed-loop system, which has its own transport, and undergo daily COVID-19 testing.
During a practice session on the ice on Tuesday, American figure skater Nathan Chen wore a full face mask. “Prevention is better than cure, I guess,” he told USA TODAY. “It’s quite comfortable, so why not?”
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Even though the IOC asks athletes and those in the bubble to limit contact with others and avoid “physical interactions such as hugs, high-fives and handshakes”, condoms are distributed to participants when they arrive in the loop. Historically, sex has been an unauthorized but popular event in the Olympic Village where athletes are housed.
Confusion, possible challenge at Olympic medal ceremony
Such mixed messages could lead to confusion and some athletes, like in Tokyo, might simply not follow the rules.
“There is going to be some confusion as they try to be in the moment and not have to worry about protocols and celebrate,” said Lisa Delpy Neirotti, associate professor and director of sports management programs. at George Washington University in Washington, DC. “But the organizers are doing their best to do what is good for everyone.”
The objective is to limit any cross-contamination between athletes from different countries, she said. Let’s say three competitors are in the medal stand, maskless and hugging, and the next day one of them has to compete and tests positive.
“I’m pretty sure that’s what worries them,” Neirotti told USA TODAY from Istanbul, Turkey, on his way to Beijing. She’s been to every Olympics since the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Games. “So if you’re going to impose a restriction, that’s the one that makes sense. You’re already pretty close to your own teammates on a base regular, but not so close to the others.”
Ideally, athletes could have a say in the situation, said Mark Aoyagi, professor and co-director of sports and performance psychology at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology.
“I think we could all agree that we would want Olympic athletes who have sacrificed their lives so much for this moment to be able to experience it in any way they choose,” Aoyagi told USA TODAY. “At a minimum, it would be nice if the three athletes on the podium could collectively decide if they wanted to unmask. athlete wanted to mask up, then the group photo could be fully masked, then the other two athletes could take an unmasked photo or something.”
However, he agrees that it is important to consider athletes competing in later events, as well as anyone in the Olympic bubble.
“From that perspective, it makes sense to be as careful as possible and take every precaution to ensure athletes stay healthy and can compete,” Aoyagi said. “I would say even more important that each athlete has the best chance to compete that individual athletes have the individual freedom to enjoy the moment of the podium in whatever way they prefer.
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.