THE Malaysian contingent will leave for their Olympic Games assignment without their chef de mission for the first time.
Datuk Lee Chong Wei will stay back as he does not want to take the risk of affecting his health; after all, he had recovered from nose cancer not too long ago and does not want a relapse.
He will manage the team from home - probably advising and motivating Malaysia’s 30 athletes – a smaller number of qualifiers compared to the previous edition in Rio four years ago.
If that is not bizarre enough, then be prepared for all other unusual situations at the Tokyo Games, which will start on July 23 with the opening ceremony.
There won’t be any fans to welcome the march past of athletes from 200 over countries.
Over 10,000 athletes will be competing in empty venues, there will be no socialising or training at all on the first three days after arriving in Tokyo as they will be under quarantine.
Indeed, it’s going to be a strange Olympics as Japan insists on plodding ahead with the biggest sporting spectacle despite Covid-19 ravaging the country.
Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was forced to resort to banning spectators just two weeks before the Games was scheduled to start after announcing that Tokyo’s fourth state of emergency will begin on Monday.
Even the opening ceremony on July 23, usually a pompous affair and a symbol of great pride for the hosts, will also be reduced to a television event only.
The Japanese organisers are wary of the sentiment of the local residents who had not been in favour of staging an event of this scale in the midst of a national health crisis.
The public had valid concerns that the arrival of tens of thousands of athletes, officials and support staff could trigger a new wave of infections.
For the athletes, it is basically going to be an extension of their daily routine in isolation.
For national diver Pandelela Rinong, she has been living in and out of a training bubble in Bukit Jalil for the past one year and she can’t even return to her home, which is just nearby.
It is certainly not good for her mental health but that is what she has to go through to fight for glory for Malaysia in her sport.
The worst thing than can happen to Pandelela and other experienced athletes is to make the long arduous trip to Tokyo and not get to compete for breaching the SOPs. They have to be extremely careful.
It is not an easy time to be an athlete as you do not just need to be physically and mentally prepared, but also have to constantly worry over your shoulders whether you have been exposed to the virus.
Which is why it is timely for top Malaysian officials, including Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican, to preach for fellow Malaysians to get behind the athletes and show support.
“I am impressed with them, they went through hell, being far from family but they are doing it for the country,” said Reezal.
The public have a right to demand for results but the expectations must also be in balance with the current scenario in a world that is dealing with the pandemic situation last experienced 100 years ago.
Criticism is the last thing an athlete should be dealing with right now.