It may be hard to believe but as late as mid-2019, the world was overly hyped on the Summer Olympics slated to play out at Tokyo, Japan the following year. When 2020 arrived however, the COVID pandemic forced the organizers to postpone the event a year. This 2021, with the pandemic vaccination situation still precarious in the host country, overkill restrictions have been placed on the Tokyo Olympics just to get it started later this month. But begin this July the games must. To emphasize just how the health and safety restrictions have hobbled the Games to near-obscurity, a new regulation means one of Team Philippines’ flag-bearers cannot do so.

The Philippine Star reports that another anti-COVID-spread protocol being implemented by the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games organizers for its opening ceremony on Friday next week, Filipino athlete EJ Obiena will have to bow out of his assigned duty to be the male flag-bearer for the Philippine delegation during the parade of nations. As explained by Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Abraham Tolentino, a new regulation in place requires all participants in the Olympics opening ceremony – athletes, coaches, staff, volunteers, officials and what limited VIPs there are – must be present at the venue eight hours before.

That is too bad for Obiena, who is representing the Philippines in the men’s pole vault and appointed the male flag-bearer. He has been training for his event at Formia, Italy since 2020, unable to return home due to COVID restrictions. His flight to Tokyo departs right on the morning of July 23, the date of the opening ceremony of the Olympics. And as he will be caught up in COVID checks upon arrival at the airport, Obiena may as well miss the ceremony entirely.

As July 2021 approached, Japan saw no significant improvement in its domestic COVID response situation, forcing the Tokyo Olympics organizers to announce drastic measures: no guest spectators from overseas, no spectators during the nation-spanning torch relay, and possibly even no domestic audience at the event venues, with media affiliate broadcasts being the only way to watch the Olympics at all. Now the 8-hour prep time has stripped Team Philippines of one of its flag-bearers for the opening parade. At least female flag-bearer Kiyomi Watanabe (women’s judo) is not affected. POC president Tolentino notes that the delegation is still deliberating on a replacement for EJ Obiena, with a decision to be made on Wednesday, July 14.

Obiena is one of the country’s newest wunderkind amateur athletes, setting the Philippine record in men’s pole-vault (5.55 meters, 2016) and then breaking the Asian Athletics Championship record (5.71 meters, 2019). He is also the first sportsman given an International Athletic Association Federation (IAAF) scholarship. The Tokyo Olympics finally begins on July 23, but now many in the world are probably wondering: Who cares?

Image courtesy of GMA News