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In 2016, Olympic athletes were openly encouraged to make use of free condoms in Rio - but Tokyo 2020 is warning athletes to take them home instead. Photograph: Dpa Picture Alliance/Alamy

Tokyo Olympics athletes warned not to use 160,000 free condoms

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The organisers of the 2020 Olympics have repeatedly vowed to put on a “safe and secure” Games during the coronavirus pandemic. But safe sex – or anything approaching intimacy for that matter – will be forbidden for athletes competing in Tokyo.

The International Olympic Committee this week repeated demands that residents of the Olympic village must observe social distancing guidelines to prevent an outbreak of Covid-19, threatening rule-breakers with a range of penalties, including fines, disqualification, or even deportation.

Athletes, according to the public health measures outlined in the latest Olympic playbook, must “avoid unnecessary forms of physical contact”.

That has left Japanese organisers red-faced after questions were raised about the fate of 160,000 condoms that, in keeping with Olympic tradition, are due to be handed out in the village this summer.

Hundreds of thousands of free condoms have been distributed since Seoul 1988 to encourage safe sex during the unofficial Olympic sport of bed-hopping among athletes from over 200 countries who spend weeks living in close quarters. However, if the 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes observe Covid-19 rules to the letter during their stay in Tokyo, this year’s consignment will go unused.

The mixed messaging has baffled observers, including the celebrated Japanese mountaineer, Ken Noguchi, who said handing out prophylactics while imploring their owners to keep them under wraps was “something I just can’t comprehend”.

Games organisers have belatedly spun the anomaly into a safe sex message. The condoms are not intended for use in the athletes’ village, they said. Instead, they are meant to be taken home and used to raise awareness of HIV and Aids.

Four Japanese manufacturers had been banking on the Games to market their specialty – ultra-thin condoms made of polyurethane that are said to heighten the pleasure of safe sex.

But, according to Agence France-Presse, Games requirements mean they are only permitted to distribute thicker, latex-based versions, which some have described as offering an inferior experience.

“When I learned about the requirement, I thought, ‘Oh my god … can that be right?’” an industry source told AFP. “We had really counted on being able to offer these ultra-thin ones.”

While the IOC has said up to 80% of prospective Olympic and Paralympic village residents will be fully vaccinated by the time the Tokyo Games open on 23 July, they will spend much of their time there a safe distance from their fellow residents.

Organisers were originally planning to provide meals in vast dining halls, but are now encouraging athletes to eat – and sleep – alone.

About Charles Igbinidu

Charles Igbinidu is a Public Relations practitioner in Lagos, Nigeria

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