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Journalists warn against press restrictions at Tokyo 2020 Olympics

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(Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP)

Sports journalists from across the world have warned the organisers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, which begins in Japan this month, that the restrictions and limited access to sources would make the games difficult for the media to cover.

Through its parent body, International Sport Press Association (AIPS), the journalists during an e-conference at the weekend said some of the guidelines released by the IOC in conjunction with the Tokyo 2020 Local Organising Committee (LOC) would make it practically impossible for most journalists, especially those from the developing world, to be at the games.

The World e-conference moderated by AIPS Secretary General, Jura Ozmec, with editor of Outlook magazine (India), Soumitra Bose and Martin Mazur (AIPS Media), was part of the body’s 97th anniversary of its birth. The conference with 700 registered participants from more than 100 countries also coincided with the celebration of this year’s World Sport Journalists Day.

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It outlined the most difficult challenges faced by journalists after the pandemic, including restrictions, mental health and limited access to sources.

In his speech entitled, ‘We, the press, are not the enemy of Japan,’ AIPS President, Gianni Merlo, said highlighted the many regulations that accredited journalists for Tokyo 2020 are supposed to follow, the certainty that journalists will be followed at all times, giving away privacy, and the condition to report all the people they meet, put in danger the freedom of press.

Particularly alarming, Merlo said, is the new requirement that journalists must stay in approved hotels that sometimes cost four times more than the ones originally booked.

He sent a final message: “There is no journalism for the rich or the poor, there are not two categories among journalists. That happened in the Middle Ages. Now, journalists who had their hotel paid, are being asked to transfer to hotels that cost four times as much, to give up. It is like putting them in a ghetto for financial reasons that as an association we cannot accept.”

Merlo raised three visible points, as he showed the written rules of the official “Tokyo 2020 Accommodation: Working during special soft quarantine scheme,” the document that regulates what a journalist can, should and cannot do.

“Another thing that is incredible,” Merlo added, “is that they tell us that we can have a meal in the press centre or in the facility of the event that we are going, or you can eat in your hotel or buy some food in the special place, the so-called convenient store, but before going you need to ask the security staff and you need to come back in 15 minutes. If not, I don’t know what will happen. If there is a queue or you need to walk there, your 15 minutes are gone.

“Not following these rules can result in the withdrawal of your accreditation. Can you imagine? You’ve spent thousands of dollars, you’ve quarantined, you’ve followed all the rules, and you can lose everything for being 20 minutes in a convenient store to pay for food. This is unacceptable”.

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Another important subject raised by the AIPS president was the credible risk of being banned: “When you go out you need to tell the security guard where you are going, and fill all the records when you are back. This is like being a prisoner and the freedom of the people is really in danger. But there is a third thing, If identified walking outside, the security guard will ask you to go back to your room and inform Tokyo 2020 Organisers. An infringement could result in us being kicked out of Japan.

“And since we are described as ‘part of the Games’, the people are encouraged to photograph us and publish on social media when being outside. Can you imagine? They are asking to the population of Japan to follow every of our moves and put it in social media the possible infringement of the rules? This is the craziest of all, it can generate racism…”

Merlo called the IOC and the LOC to review these regulations, appealing to the hospitality of Japan that is well documented. “We can’t judge Japan by this paper, because Japan is better than this. We need to find a solution together. We understand how difficult it is for them, but I can’t believe that the hospitality of Japan is this one. It’s a special occasion, but we are not in war.”

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