WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Famous sportsmen from sports like tennis and golf who are flying to Tokyo for the Olympics will most likely be at the front of the plane.
The athletes from the Pacific Islands aren’t used to this type of competition. Fiji’s gold-medal-winning men’s rugby sevens squad, along with the rest of the national team, will arrive in Tokyo on Thursday aboard a cargo/freight airplane carrying primarily frozen fish.
During the epidemic, commercial passenger flights to and from Pacific nations have become rare. The Fiji Association of Sports and National Olympic Committee’s chief executive, Lorraine Mar, said Wednesday that planning transport for the Fiji squad to Tokyo has been a “logistical issue.”
Around 51 players and officials, primarily from the Fiji men’s and women’s sevens teams, will board the flight from Nadi, Fiji’s main international airport, on Thursday, according to Mar. It’s a regularly scheduled freight trip with some passenger capacity.
The sevens teams have lately been stationed in Australia, where the Fiji men’s team won the Oceania Sevens title two weeks ago in Townsville, Queensland. When the men’s team won the inaugural Olympic rugby sevens event in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, it awarded Fiji its first-ever Olympic gold medal.
The Fiji teams were supposed to travel directly from Australia to Tokyo, however owing to new COVID-19-related limitations in Asia, plans were modified at the last minute.
Aside from the sevens teams, Fiji has one track and field athlete, two swimmers, a female table tennis player, and a judo competitor residing in Japan.
Dealing with athletes’ exits from Japan, according to Mar, is also a difficulty. Athletes must leave the Olympic village within 48 hours following the end of their competitions, according to the IOC.
After the sevens competition, Fiji has a flight scheduled from Tokyo to Nadi on July 29, which might also take other competitors who have been eliminated or completed competing. On August 10, another flight has been scheduled.
Mar is hoping that the IOC would offer a concession to athletes who are unable to get flights home right away, allowing them to stay in the village until a flight is available.
Samoa has already pulled its three-member weightlifting team from the games because they are all located in Samoa and the Samoa administration is concerned about the spread of COVID-19 in Japan. Eight Samoan athletes who are located in other countries will compete as well.
Two boxers from Australia, four sailors and canoeists from New Zealand, a track athlete from the United States, and a judoka from Japan make up the team.
Tonga will send six participants, all of whom are based outside of Tonga. Pita Taufatofua — the “naked Tongan” — was a bare-chested sensation when he carried the Tongan flag at the Rio Olympics’ opening ceremony.
Taufatofua, who will compete in taekwondo in Tokyo, previously represented Tonga in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in cross-country skiing.