As Movendi International reported previously, the organizers of the Tokyo Olympics had already mulled plans for an alcohol-free athletes village.
As officials lifted the state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Tokyo on the weekend before The Games started, new coronavirus measures allowed for alcohol use in bars and restaurants between 11:00 AM and 7:00 PM, for one or two people, for maximum one and a half hours.
Despite this losening of COVID-19 counter measures for the Tokyo Olympics, the organizers considered even more alcohol availability, despite the ongoing pandemic in Japan. They had planned to allow alcohol sales for spectators of the Olympic Games.
Asahi Breweries were pressuring the organizers to allow for alcohol sale in Olympic venues despite the lethal interaction between alcohol and COVID-19. Asahi is the largest brewer in Japan and a sponsor of the Tokyo Olympic Games.
The public and health officials were already criticizing the organizing committee for allowing spectators to the Games. During the ongoing pandemic it is highly risky to allow large groups of people to gather. The Olympics organizers decided to allow a limited number of Japanese spectators. Venue capacity was at 50% or 10,000 maximum spectators. This decision went against warnings from the government’s most senior health adviser, Shigeru Omi.
Allowing alcohol for spectators would have been adding fuel to the fire. Alcohol use negatively affects people from adhering to COVID-19 preventive measures, such as mask use and maintaining physical distancing. The public protested against giving preferential treatment for the Games and Big Alcohol, while small businesses and ordinary people are suffering.
Are the Olympics an exception, after having placed a burden of anti-infection measures on restaurant operators for so long?” said Haruo Ozaki, the head of the Tokyo Medical Association, as per The Guardian.
Haruo Ozaki, head of Tokyo Medical Association
Eventually, Asahi backed down and the Olympics organizers held a completely alcohol-free Olympic Games.
Alcohol harm in Olympics
Despite the alcohol-free Olympics, alcohol harm was reported on several incidents. Most of the reports involved Australian athletes.
- Five Australian hockey players left the athletes village to purchase alcohol at a convenience store. Olympic rules prohibited athletes to leave the village. The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) officials reprimanded the players and they subjected to isolation in their rooms.
- Despite the alcohol ban reports have surfaced of an all-night party with alcohol inside the athletes village.
- The Australian Olympics Rugby team had allegedly “trashed” their room after being intoxicated with alcohol.
- On their flight back from Tokyo, Australian rugby and football players had displayed unruly behavior aboard the Japanese Airlines flight after having consumed alcohol. The players denied any wrong-doing. But Japanese Airlines lodged a complaint against the behavior of the Australian athletes with the AOC. Since then, Rugby Australia announced all the Rugby players onboard will be reprimanded and sent for alcohol counseling.
The Australian athletes’ behavior shows the pervasive alcohol norm present in society and propagated by alcohol sponsorship of sports. As the lobbying by Big Alcohol giant Asahi shows, linking alcohol brands with sports glory is lucrative for the alcohol industry. But associating alcohol with sports sends the wrong message about alcohol to society. One study found that alcohol advertising in sports gives people positive attitudes about alcohol brands and likely impacts their alcohol use in the long-term. This perpetuates the pervasive alcohol norm, which fuels harms as described above.
The New York Times: “Alcohol will be banned at the Tokyo Olympics“
The Guardian: “Tokyo Olympics organisers ban alcohol sales after public outcry“
The Guardian: “AOC reprimands five Australian hockey players for breaching Covid protocols“
The Telegraph: “Australian rugby players to undergo alcohol counselling after drunken flight carnage“