The Australian Olympic Team’s Chief Medical Officer Dr David Hughes has outlined and explained the high-level of planning and preparation in order to safely manage the contingent of athletes and coaches heading to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympic Games.
Speaking to the media, Hughes expressed his thoughts on the challenges presented worldwide throughout the last 18 months but indicated COVID wasn’t the only issue that had arisen from surveying the landscape for the Olympics.
“It’s certainly going to be a different games and clearly there’s a huge focus on COVID but I do think it’s important to remember we only heard the word COVD about 18 months ago,” Hughes said.
“We were very well aware that there are other medical challenges in Tokyo that we shouldn’t take our eye off.”
Hughes pointed out that heat will be a significant factor in the health and wellbeing of the athletes, adding that most days will range between low 30-degree and high-30 degree days with overnight temperatures only 10 degrees cooler.
“We know that the Tokyo Olympics are almost certainly going to be one of the hottest Olympics,” Hughes said.
“We’ve got a fantastic team looking at heat issues and looking at this issue for the past four years. We have lots of measures in place ensuring our athletes are appropriately acclimatised to the conditions in Tokyo.”
One of those measures includes a recovery centre at the Australian HQ in Tokyo which will be looking closely at managing the risks involved with heat and set up appropriate recovery from training and competitions.
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Within the Australian unit of medical professionals and health officials, Hughes praised the group for being just as adaptable as the athletes and for coming up with ideas to mitigate the risk of COVID.
“We have six doctors in Australian HQ. We have five physiotherapists, eight soft tissue therapists, we have psychologists, we have dieticians, we have recovery scientists,” Hughes explained.
“And remember that many of the sports themselves are taking their own doctor, physiotherapist, some of them are taking their own psychologist.
“Australian athletes and coaches are very fortunate that we’re a nation that has very highly developed sports science and sports medicine expertise and the Olympics is seen as one of the pinnacle events that health professionals love to come along and contribute to.”
As for the 472-strong delegation of Australian athletes confirmed to take place at Tokyo 2020, Hughes spoke highly of their flexibility and ability to push on, despite the present and emerging challenges.
“The Australian athletes have shown themselves to be unbelievably adaptable to this very new and strange environment where nothing is like it has been before,” Hughes said.
“Everybody has had to accept significant changes and modifications to their usual training habits and training environments.”
Hughes made it a point to mention that 95 to 98 per cent of the Australian travelling group were fully vaccinated ahead of their travel to Japan though described more of the processes that would play out throughout the team’s stay.
“We’re doing everything that we possibly can to ensure that as the Australian Olympic Team lands at the airport in Tokyo, we are COVID-free,” Hughes said.
“I think it’s fair to say that the Australian Olympic Team has dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s in terms of ensuring that we take our athletes into Tokyo safely, we keep them safe in Tokyo and we bring them home safely.”
Furthermore, each athlete will be having a COVID test 14 days, four days and two days out from their departure to Tokyo. The high rates of testing continues upon arrival at the airport and before boarding the plane to come back to Australia.
“We have a very detailed COVIDSafe plan which covers off the 14 days leading into departure for Tokyo where everyone on the team is going to avoid any indoor, high-risk settings, focusing on their training,” Hughes said.
“We’re not being complacent about the possibility that there may be COVID-19 circulating in the village and we, therefore, have to assume that that is the case and maintain our other measures that is mask-wearing, maintain social distance.”
Hughes identified key areas of the Olympic Village that were more high-risk than others and confirmed Australia’s Olympic medical team had gone over every part of the process to continue to decrease the potential threat.
“The Australian team is going to try and avoid the village gymnasium as much as possible…we perceive that as a high-risk environment,” Hughes said.
“Fortunately, the Australian Olympic Team has actually set up our own gymnasium in the basement of Australian HQ. That’s been a really great initiative by the performance services team.”
The dining hall at the Olympic Village was also identified as a potential high-risk setting, with the advice to the Australian groups to limit the time spent in this location. Again, Australian HQ will act as a provider of snacks in an effort to restrict the requirement to enter the dining hall unless for collecting more substantial main meals.
Lastly, Hughes advised that the Olympic Games are providing transport to and from the Olympic Village and their training and competition locations, sharing rides with other nations. He said the athletes and coaches would be equipped with high-quality face masks to be used at all times but that transport had suitable ventilation also.
“I feel we have really gone over the whole Olympic process with a fine-tooth comb, identified those key, risk touchpoints and have good processes in place to mitigate that risk,” Hughes advised.
“We’re sharing information with others [Chief Medical Officers and National Olympic Committees], we’re listening to information from others.
“I feel confident, although not complacent, that we’ve got the best plan we can possibly have n place to get the team into Tokyo, perform well in Tokyo and then bring them safely home with minimal risk to the team and minimal risk to the Australian public.”
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