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8 hours at airport as Indian sailors land in Tokyo

The six-member sailing team, comprising four sailors and two coaches, took a little more than eight hours to complete the entire process at Tokyo’s Haneda airport Tuesday before they could finally leave for their hotel.

A TEDIOUS bureaucratic process lasting hours, a Covid test and a ‘technology check’ — the first Indian team to touch down in Tokyo for the Olympics got a taste of what the new normal is like at the Games.

The six-member sailing team, comprising four sailors and two coaches, took a little more than eight hours to complete the entire process at Tokyo’s Haneda airport Tuesday before they could finally leave for their hotel.

It was unusually long, but not unexpected.

Following a meeting last week between Chef de Missions from all countries and the organising committee, Indian Olympic Association president Narinder Batra had warned the country’s 227-strong contingent to be prepared for delays. The contingent learnt that several countries had to wait up to four hours for the immigration process to start and then another three hours to board their dedicated transport.

“Sharing with all of you so that you are mentally prepared for what you may very likely expect at the airport until you reach the Village… these games are being held under extra ordinary circumstances and we should try to support Japan and go (through) everything with a smile,” Batra wrote in his message to the Indian team on July 10.

The sailing team did not check into the Athletes Village, which was thrown open on Tuesday, since they will be living in a separate accommodation closer to their venue.

As per an Associated Press report, Tokyo reported its highest tally in almost six months on Wednesday, seeing 1,149 new cases. The new high coincided with a courtesy call by International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach on Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

An official said the sailing team was held up due to the lengthy immigration procedures and the wait for Covid test reports. There were none of the usual fast-track lanes for Games participants at airports, as in previous Olympics.

Immediately after de-boarding, the phones of the team were first checked by a quarantine officer for two apps — one for health monitoring and the other for contact tracing. The officials ensured that Bluetooth and GPS were functional on each of their phones. “Through one of the apps, they also checked our pre-departure Covid reports,” the official added. “For those without a smartphone, there was a provision at the airport to rent one for the duration of the Games.”

After the quarantine information was conveyed, the team had to undergo a saliva antigen Covid-19 test. While waiting for the report, they completed other formalities, like validating their accreditation cards and submitting proof of a negative pre-departure Covid test.

“It took a couple of hours for the Covid test report, but in our case the delay was longer also because some members of the team did not have their accreditation cards,” the official said.

The sailing team had been training in different parts of Europe before leaving for Japan. While Nethra Kumanan, who will compete in the laser radial event, was training in Spain, the 49er class duo of Varun Thakkar and Ganapathy Chengappa were preparing for the Games in Portugal. Vishnu Saravanan, who will take part in laser standard class, was in Malta for his Olympics preparations.

Owing to the flight disruptions, accreditation cards had not reached some of them in time. “It is not possible to leave the airport without an accreditation card. That process took a couple of hours more. The rest of the team could have left after they received their Covid-negative reports but they chose to travel together,” the official said.

The sailing team’s experience is an indication of what awaits the rest of the Indian team. The first batch of athletes from India is due to leave for Tokyo on July 17 via a chartered Air India flight.

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