Opinion | Olympics Plus a Pandemic Equal a Risk Management Nightmare: Are the 2021 Games Failing to Put Volunteer Safety First?

By: | July 20, 2021

Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

A s many of you may know, several of my risk management assignments throughout my career have been associated with mega sporting events, including the Olympic games.

These global events are near-and-dear to my heart. I truly believe in the spirit and mission of such high-performance sporting events and their positive impact.

Japan is in the midst of fighting a fourth wave of COVID-19.

Even though the spread of the virus is slower than in months prior, 2,000 new cases are being reported daily. Fewer than 15% of Japan’s population has received even one dose of a vaccine. This is the state of the host nation for the upcoming 2021 Olympics.

As a former games organizer, I can attest that with just weeks to the Olympic opening ceremonies, the Games operations are already in full motion.

Athletes are moving into and about their quarters at the athlete villages. Broadcasters and other press are setting up shop, etc., etc. And most importantly, as all these services ramp up, Olympic staff numbers ramp up exponentially.

What is important to recognize is that the vast majority of staff at such games are volunteers. And in Tokyo, it appears they are counting on the volunteer service of at least 70,000 people.

To put this number into perspective, the Super Bowl recruits about 7,000 volunteers.

The heart of all Olympics is the volunteers. They make the games happen. And without them, the event is in deep peril. These volunteers are likely Japanese citizens who signed up months in advance, interviewed, were specially selected, and asked to commit to long hours of work without pay just to soak up the vibrant atmosphere of the world’s biggest sporting event.

But they did not sign up to get sick. Potentially mortally sick.

Doctors have warned of the risks of so many unvaccinated people moving in and out of the Olympic venues. The Olympics could implode Japan’s medical system and hurt many.

As the opening ceremony approaches, organizers reportedly plan to vaccinate around 18,000 Olympic staff, including officials, anti-doping testers and some volunteers.

However, not enough vaccine is available for all 70,000 volunteers. Ten thousand volunteers have understandably resigned, and more will likely follow suit.

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Recommendations from the International Olympic  Committee’s (IOC’s) new strategic roadmap “Olympic Agenda 2020+5” suggests “the need for greater solidarity within and among societies” and “the need to build resilience in the face of the  financial and economic consequences that will result from the COVID-19 pandemic, and which will influence priority-setting among governments and enterprises.”

These are wonderful goals in theory.

So, as Tokyo is preparing for a state of emergency before the games, where are you in all this IOC?

The postponement of the Games from last year halted the IOC’s income flow, 75% of which comes from selling broadcast rights. This adds up to billions of dollars.

I urge the IOC to invest in a comprehensive vaccine solution.

After all the Olympic creed says: “The important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well.” IOC, please fight for your volunteers and your host nation. &

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