The Yomiuri ShimbunVaulting poles, canoes, javelins ... How can airports get such large pieces of sports equipment over 2 meters long into the hands of athletes flying into Japan to compete at next year’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics?
Narita Airport and Haneda Airport are struggling with the logistics. Some equipment is too large to pass through airport facilities, and many such pieces will arrive simultaneously as athletes all land around the same time. Airports are considering handing such equipment to competitors at their outdoor exits. However, there is now significant concern about the inconvenience to athletes of such an arrangement, and a solution to alleviate the inconvenience remains elusive.
Sources including the organizing committee expect that over 15,000 athletes will compete in Tokyo, the second-largest number after the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016. Most overseas athletes are expected to travel through Narita or Haneda, bringing their equipment as luggage.
However, objects such as vaulting poles (2-5 meters long), javelins (2-3 meters), canoe slalom boats (over 3.5 meters), and masts for RS:X Class windsurfing (about 2 meters) will not fit in airport elevators or on conveyor belts that carry luggage to the baggage claim areas.
The problem is not just that many pieces of sports equipment are oversized, but also that many athletes carrying similar equipment are expected to arrive simultaneously so they can take part in the opening ceremony or a particular event.
About 100 players are competing in the pole vault, meaning that airports will have to handle about 100 cylindrical cases containing several poles each. There will also be an estimated 130 javelins, 330 canoes for the slalom, and 150 masts for RS:X sailing.
The organizing committee stressed that it wants to find a way to avoid congestion at airports and ensure a smooth handover of equipment to athletes. The committee is working on a solution with airlines, both airports and the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry. Competition wheelchairs for the Paralympics (about 1.8 meters long) may also be included.
Haneda Airport is considering transporting equipment from the runway to outdoor gates at both ends of the terminal so that airline personnel can hand it over to athletes after they have gone through immigration. However, these gates are not sheltered and lie far from the stop where buses depart for the Olympic Village.
One airport official admitted, “The airport has concerns about making players wait around under an open sky. What if it rains?”
The official said that Narita Airport was in talks with airlines.
The actual number of participating athletes and their arrival schedules will not be known until just before the Olympics and Paralympics. For that reason, airports cannot know how much luggage to account for. As data on solutions that were applied during previous Games is scarce, the organizations involved plan to implement trial runs during other sports events held in Japan.
All Nippon Airways said, “We want to help make the Games a success by improving convenience for athletes while making sure that our other customers enjoy a pleasant travel experience.”
Departures at Olympic Village
Luggage handling will also be an issue when the time comes for overseas athletes to leave the country.
Closing ceremonies for the Tokyo Olympics will be held on Aug. 9 and the Paralympic Games on Sept. 6. Most overseas athletes and officials are expected to leave Japan within four days of the closing ceremonies. An organizing committee official said, “We expect congestion at airports to peak the day after the closing ceremonies.”
To reduce that congestion and ensure that everyone can depart smoothly, the organizing committee is considering setting up “out-of-airport processing” counters (“Harumi check-in”) in the Olympic Village so that athletes can drop off their luggage before heading to the airport. In this scenario, athletes would check in at the Olympic Village and deposit their luggage the day before they fly out. The luggage would be transported to the airport, where the athletes would simply need to go through departure and security checks. A similar solution was implemented during the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998.
The details of the operation have not yet been nailed down. However, Japan Airlines confirmed that it is “coordinating with the organizing committee and the transport ministry to organize services inside the Olympic Village.”Speech