What Happens if an Olympic Athlete Tests Positive For COVID While in Tokyo?

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TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 19: The Olympic Rings are displayed by the Odaiba Marine Park Olympic venue ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on July 19, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Toru Hanai/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 19: The Olympic Rings are displayed by the Odaiba Marine Park Olympic venue ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on July 19, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Toru Hanai/Getty Images)

Officials in Tokyo are taking precautions to test and protect athletes and all those involved in the 2021 Olympics from contracting and spreading COVID. But since July 1, 58 people associated with the Tokyo Games have already tested positive for COVID, Tokyo 2020 is reporting, including a US gymnastics alternate, who was actually vaccinated and showing no symptoms.

So while the IOC estimated that more than 80 percent of the athletes who arrived in Tokyo would be vaccinated, even if you are fully vaccinated, you can still get infected. Athletes are being tested daily, but since the incubation period can last up to 14 days, it means a person can have many negative test results before showing positive, which could happen just before or during a competition.

What Happens If an Athlete Tests Positive For COVID?

If an athlete, including alternates, tests positive for COVID while in Tokyo, they will need to self-isolate for 10 to 14 days, in accordance with the instructions of the Japanese health authorities, which depends on the severity of symptoms. They will not be allowed to compete.

Can Close Contacts Still Compete?

Anyone who was in close contact with that athlete (spent at least 15 minutes with the infected person within a meter distance without a face mask) from the two days before symptoms appeared to when they were tested and started isolating will be tested. Whether or not close contacts will be allowed to compete will be decided on a case-by-case basis. They're required to have daily negative nose swab PCR tests, need to quarantine in a private room, and have to use dedicated vehicles and training facilities away from other athletes.

Athletes who are identified as close contacts of those testing positive for COVID should still be able to compete in their events, as long as they don't test positive. Those athletes will have to quarantine, but are allowed to leave to train and compete, as long as they take separate transportation as well as test negative within six hours of their event.

If an Athlete Tests Positive For COVID, Will an Alternate Take Their Place?

In most cases, if an athlete or team can't compete because they tested positive for COVID, they'll be marked DNS (Did Not Start), and the next most eligible athlete will take their place so competition can proceed. If there aren't enough substitutes available to fill all the positions, the event would still go on with fewer athletes. If an entire team can't compete, the next-highest ranked eligible team will fill the open position. Or the competition format of the event may be adapted, for example, with softball, they may move to a single group round-robin format.

This is the general protocol, but every sport and event has slightly varied rules regarding this. So if you want to know the rules about a specific sport, check out the Tokyo 2020 Sport-Specific Regulations (SSR) for more details.

Related: Coco Gauff Will Not Represent Team USA at the Olympics After Testing Positive For COVID-19