‘A Journalistic Test’: Covering a Restricted Tokyo Olympics

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Times journalists attending the Olympics do rather more than break down the play-by-plays and report the winners of every occasion. They faucet into the native shade of the host metropolis, get behind the scenes of the huge operation and discover the lives of the athletes in intimate and natural methods.

“One of the joys of reporting on the Olympics is the randomness, the serendipity that comes from being at an event with representatives from 200 countries,” stated Ken Belson, a sports activities reporter who’s one among greater than 30 individuals in Japan to cowl the Tokyo Games for The Times.

Finding these scenes and moments shall be rather more tough at these Olympics, the place competitors started this week.

Coronavirus instances are rising, and Tokyo stays underneath a state of emergency at some stage in the Games. Several Olympics personnel and athletes have just lately examined constructive. Anxiety over the Games was already excessive; polls have proven that a majority of Japanese residents consider the Olympics ought to have been canceled.

“How they pull this off, the effect it has, if any, on the athletes and events will be pretty dynamic to see,” stated Randy Archibold, The Times’s sports activities editor.

Mr. Archibold can be in Japan, the place he’ll oversee the desk’s broad report. That will embrace in-depth options, spot reporting in a every day briefing on-line and a extra sturdy presence in print.

Heavy restrictions have been put in place by the Tokyo organizing committee and the Japanese authorities. Daily testing is remitted for all guests. Athletes received’t be wandering freely, and plenty of are leaving after they compete. There are not any worldwide spectators, and simply a few weeks in the past, Japanese spectators have been barred as nicely.

Some of those protocols will intervene with fundamental information gathering efforts. Capacity at each occasion is proscribed, and reporters are prohibited from conducting interviews exterior press areas and from driving public transportation.

These are the 11th Olympic Games that the reporter Juliet Macur is protecting. Past occasions introduced distinctive stresses, problems and calls for, she stated, however nothing fairly compares to the lack of unfettered mobility she faces now.

“Every Olympics has had its moment where you’re holding your breath, thinking, What’s going to happen? and it always works out,” Ms. Macur stated. “This is obviously the nth degree of that.”

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Although most occasions are anticipated to be carried out underneath situations which are as regular as doable, gone are the raucous area crowds, vibrant road celebrations and hordes of flag-waving followers parading by means of the host metropolis.

“It will be a journalistic test for us to figure out how to make things as vivid as possible when we don’t have the great access that we’re used to or the party atmosphere that makes the Olympics what it is,” Ms. Macur stated.

For Mr. Belson, the cultural loss is very disappointing. He lived for 12 years in Tokyo, the place he wrote about enterprise in Japan for a number of publications, together with The Times, earlier than returning to New York in 2004. He started getting ready for the Games three years in the past.

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“I was very much looking forward to telling the Japan story to our readers through my experiences there,” Mr. Belson stated. “Unfortunately, that will be hampered.”

Andrew Keh is protecting his third Olympics. As do most reporters, he enjoys mining the fringes for offbeat tales. At the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Mr. Keh chronicled his canvassing of the native delicacies. In Rio in 2016, he wrote concerning the athletes lamenting modifications made to the official desk tennis ball. His colleague John Branch profiled Zamboni drivers in Pyeongchang. At the London Games in 2012, Mr. Belson dove into the swap meet-style subculture of Olympic pin buying and selling.

“The reason I always liked the Olympics is just the sheer number of athletes that are there,” Mr. Keh stated. “Each one representing a potential conversation, a potential seed of a story, a potential opportunity to learn something.”

Mr. Keh described the Tokyo Games as “a great situation for a reporter.” He stated the problem of working in unusual, obstructing circumstances ought to produce fascinating journalism. There has by no means been an Olympics like this.

It’s why The Times just lately despatched to Japan across the identical variety of reporters, editors and multimedia journalists who’ve labored at earlier Games. That doesn’t embrace the International desk’s Tokyo bureau, the place Motoko Rich, the bureau chief, has been reporting on the lead-up to the Games, or the Times newsroom in Seoul.

Tokyo 2020 was already pushed again a yr. Critics nonetheless query the knowledge of staging two weeks of occasions involving 1000’s of athletes, officers and volunteers the place the coronavirus fee is rising. No matter what occurs, there’ll nonetheless be essential tales to report.