The International Olympic Committee and the Beijing Organizing Committee said Sunday that it would “address” numerous complaints from athletes about substandard conditions in the isolation centers they were sent to after testing positive for COVID-19.
Complaints have come in via official channels and social media accounts about dirty rooms, non-existent internet access, substandard meals and a lack of training equipment or even space for calisthenics.
Russian biathlete Valeria Vasnetsova said she was served the same unappetizing meal three times a day for nearly a week until she became ill.
“My stomach hurts,” Vasnetsova said. “I’m very pale. I have huge black circles under my eyes. I want all this to end. I cry every day. I’m very tired. My bones are already sticking out.”
Meanwhile, the head of the German team railed on the size, condition and amenities in the rooms holding his athletes as “unacceptable” and “unreasonable.”
There were numerous additional complaints from other nations, which seemed to go unheeded until the IOC was publicly shamed by the media. It has now vowed action.
“This is exactly the kind of thing we have to address,” said Christopher Dubi, executive director of the Olympic Games. “It’s a duty. It’s a responsibility.”
It is. Except it should never have come to this.
Consider all the athletes and national officials who were too scared to lodge a complaint against the Chinese because they feared it would result in even worse conditions or longer stays in quarantine? No one should have had to speak up and risk it. The IOC should have preemptively protected them.
Athletes have been expressing concerns for months about testing positive in China, where a strict COVID-zero policy has the Winter Olympics operating inside a “closed loop” bubble.
Part of that is sending even asymptomatic athletes to so-called “isolations centers” — usually a low-level hotel — until they can produce multiple negative PCR tests. Nearly 400 people associated with the Olympics, including over 100 athletes, have already tested positive. The Games officially began on Friday.
Everyone was wary about missing their competition while they waited to test out under standards that are more stringent than most professional sports leagues around the world. They were also concerned about what life would be like in the isolation centers just as they are looking to achieve peak physical and mental condition.
The Beijing Organizing Committee offered just a few specifics about isolation life, such as a minimum 25-square meter room, a window which could provide access to fresh air and three meals a day.
It turns out they couldn’t even manage that well.
“I think we are in a process addressing this problem,” Han Zirong of the Beijing organizing committee said Sunday.
That process should have been handled years ago or at least months ago when athletes who came to China for pre-Olympic competitions began complaining about the isolation hotels.
“The room has to be big enough to do his exercises,” said Dirk Schimmelpfenning, chief of the German team, bringing forth the most basic of complaints. “It must be hygienically clean. The food needs to come regularly; PCR tests done at the times that we need them, two a day.”
The fact that German athletes allegedly were not getting the promised twice daily PCR tests is particularly astounding. They need to be tested that often so they can begin to test out and get back to competition, which is the entire point of this operation.
Every minute, let alone every day, is desperately important for these athletes.
“It should not happen,” Dubi of the IOC said of the overall hotel situation with the Germans. “[It is] very unfortunate that it affected an athlete. It’s been addressed [but] let’s be thorough, very thorough, in the future that … everything is perfect for the athletes who do suffer from the conditions.”
The entire situation speaks to a lack of respect for the athletes. No one is asking for the Ritz Carlton here.
By testing positive, the athletes were treated like low-level criminals. They were shown a dirty room and locked in. Their physical condition was of little concern. There was apparently no understanding that their dietary needs are unique, often in need of massive amounts of calories or protein. Instead they were fed government food like they should be lucky to get what they got.
How? How do you stage an Olympics and not think of the Olympians?
Forget the Chinese. The bar of expectations with them is so low it’s a wonder the athletes weren’t sent to the fields to pick crops while they waited for their tests. But the IOC? Even in its current emasculated state at the knee of their Dear Leader in Beijing, how could the IOC allow such incompetence?
“I honestly don’t understand, why is there this attitude to us, the athletes,” Vasnetsova said.
The solution to the low-quality food is that athletes can now order their meals.
“We have made the decision now that this athlete in isolation can order food from the menu of our Olympic Village and we can get the food delivered to that isolation facility,” Han Zirong of the Beijing committee said. “That means the athlete can enjoy the same kind of food as those in the Village.”
Wait, it took this long and this many complaints for China and the IOC to come up with the novel, cutting-edge concept of … room service?
And now they sound proud they thought of it?
Good luck to all the athletes competing at this absurd Olympics. You’re going to need it.