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Illustration by Security Management

Olympics Begin in Tokyo with Security Measures in the Spotlight

After a year of postponement and major revisions to the competition events to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the 2020 Olympics officially began in Tokyo Friday morning with the Opening Ceremony.

Masked athletes from around the world gathered for the March of Nations before a nearly empty stadium in Tokyo. Fan attendance is heavily restricted during the Olympics as Tokyo is in a state of emergency due to recent spikes in COVID-19 cases. 

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has confirmed 13 COVID-19 infections among athletes in Japan, and estimates that 85 percent of those living in the Olympic Village are vaccinated. Vaccination rates vary widely by country, with approximately 83 percent of U.S. athletes vaccinated (higher than the national average of 53 percent) compared to Japan’s national vaccination rate of 23.2 percent, according to NBC News. 

Athletes are not required to be fully vaccinated to participate in the Olympics. Organizers decided not to require vaccination because it is not available equally around the world.

“That’s against the whole spirit of doing the games,” said Brian McClosky, a public health and mass-gathering expert who led an advisory group on health safety measures at the 2020 Olympics, in an interview with WIRED. “We also didn’t want athletes competing for vaccines with healthcare workers and local populations.”

The game organizers have created a robust testing and quarantine strategy for athletes and staff that do test positive for COVID-19 during the Olympics.

“The strategy for keeping infections to a minimum over the coming weeks involves keeping Olympic-related visitors in as much of a bubble as possible, and testing everyone frequently,” Time reported. “Any travelers from abroad are asked to minimize their travel 14 days before their Tokyo-bound flight, and to follow mitigation measures such as wearing masks, social distancing, and hand washing regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not.” 

Additionally, once in the Olympic Village athletes are required to dine in shifts or eat in their rooms, have just one roommate they spend their time with, and designate a list of close contacts—such as coaches and training staff.

“Each athlete is also required to download a health tracking app and answer daily questions about whether they experience any COVID-19-related symptoms,” according to Time. “To get to their training sites or competitions, they can only take Olympic transport in cars or buses in which the drivers are tested and monitored as closely as the athletes are.”

Security practitioners are also on high alert for cyber threats during the 2020 Olympics. In 2016 and 2018, Russian actors disrupted the games after the nation was suspended from participation due to its athlete doping program used for the first time in 2014 when it hosted the games in Sochi. 

The FBI issued a Private Industry Notification (PIN) before the Opening Ceremony, warning entities associated with the 2020 Olympics that cyberactors may wish to disrupt the event through distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, ransomware, social engineering, phishing campaigns, or insider threats.

“Malicious activity could disrupt multiple functions, including media broadcasting environments, hospitality, transit, ticketing, or security,” the PIN said. “The FBI to date is not aware of any specific cyber threat against these Olympics, but encourages partners to remain vigilant and maintain best practices in their network and digital environments.”

Along with cyber threats, officials were also countering an unusual physical security threat: a brown bear. The bear was spotted in Azuma Sports Park, where the softball competition is underway, but evaded capture as well as efforts to scare it away—including playing loud music and setting off fireworks.

“Bear attacks can be fatal and are on the rise in Japan,” The Washington Post reported after analyzing figures from Japan’s Environment Ministry. “In 2020, bear sightings reached their highest point in five years, with more than 13,600 reported sightings across the country from April to September.”