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Tokyo 2020: Logistics during a pandemic

Published on May 26th, 2021

Long before Canada’s athletes can go for the gold in any sport this summer, there are highly complex plans afoot to transport hundreds of team members – including horses for equestrian events – and thousands of kilograms of gear, favourite foods, team clothing and boats.

It’s challenging at the best of times to get all those athletes and their equipment across the world to compete, but during a global pandemic – a head-spinning time for international travel and shipping – it’s become a herculean task.

The Canadian Olympic Committee will send some 400 athletes and the Canadian Paralympic Committee about 130. They have plenty of experience sending people and their stuff to major Games – even at the last minute following late qualifying events. Yet preparing for Tokyo has created some unique challenges, even for the most seasoned logistics staffers.

The COC had to store 31,000 pieces of Hudson’s Bay Team Canada clothing for the athletes since the Tokyo Games got postponed last year. An array of items – denim and maple leafed, red and white – were unpacked and hung by the thousands in a Montreal warehouse to protect the collection from dust, must or unsightly creases before the world sees it on Canadian athletes. Now comes the massive job of re-packing it all.

In the past, the COC and CPC have gathered gear and essentials from their sports, packed them into sea freight containers and sent one big Team Canada shipment a few months in advance of the Games. They sent 18 of those containers over the water to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Yet for this summer’s Games, sending that big Canadian shipment on a months-long journey over the ocean carried more risks, such as pandemic-related shipping delays or even Games cancellation. This year, the COC and CPC decided to charter a cargo plane instead, buying themselves more time to pack and a precise arrival date.

Canada’s sailing team has boats in Europe where many of its sailors have been training. In March, they loaded some into a shipping container from Barcelona and sent them off for Tokyo. One last Canadian boat shared some space in Team USA’s container to Japan, following a recent competition in Portugal.

“We were terrified there for a bit that our boats were going to get stuck in the Suez Canal,” said Sailing Canada High Performance Director Mike Milner. “We were told our shipment didn’t get delayed, but I guess we’ll find out for sure in about five, six weeks when our boats arrive in Tokyo.”

Canada’s insulated container carrying seven sailboats and four coaches’ motor boats will go ashore when it arrives and be transformed into a daily operating hub for Canada’s sailing team during the Games. They will equip it with an air conditioner, an office and athlete lockers.

One monster challenge for logistics planners: The flights to Japan have been changing and direct flights to Tokyo are hard to get.

Normally, the sports federations have more flexibility about when they can fly athletes to the Games and home again. But the pandemic has hit the airline industry hard, and the number of available flights is in flux.

Also, per Games protocols and to limit numbers of people, athletes can only arrive in the village in Tokyo five to seven days before they compete and must leave within 48 hours after they’re done. For many, it’s very tough to find flights in their tight window.

Before they can leave for Tokyo, every person must submit two negative COVID-19 tests within 96 hours of their flight along with a meticulous 14-day plan of all their planned destinations.

“Some sports we know have a definite end date for an athlete, but others, the athletes could be eliminated early and then there’s a whole chain reaction that needs to happen for us to get them tested, get them a flight and back to Canada quickly,” said Marie-Andrée Lessard, a 2012 Canadian beach volleyball Olympian who now acts as the COC’s Director of Games.

“It’s going to require us to be always on the edge.”


Tokyo 2020 Olympic Sailing Program
Men’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 7
Women’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 6
Men’s Two Person Dinghy – 470
Women’s Two Person Dinghy – 470
Men’s Skiff – 49er
Women’s Skiff – 49erFx
Men’s One Person Dinghy Heavy – Finn
Men’s Windsurfing – RS:X
Women’s Windsurfing – RS:X
Mixed Multihull – Nacra 17

Original dates: July 24 to August 9, 2020
Revised dates: July 23 to August 8, 2021


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