Team USA must find solutions to travel and Covid puzzles for the Beijing Winter Olympics

With four months to go until the Beijing 2022, the U.S. awaits word from organizers on the details of Covid-19 protocols.

Rick Adams, head of sport performance for the USOPC, during online media summit (USOPC)
Rick Adams, head of sport performance for the USOPC, during online media summit (USOPC)

Getting U.S. athletes to the 2022 Olympics and Paralympics in Beijing remains a big issue to solve for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

Rick Adams, head of sport performance for the USOPC says charter flights may be the best way to get Team USA to Beijing.

“We are modeling through a number of scenarios,” Adams said during a briefing for reporters covering the virtual USOPC Media Summit.

Adams says about 250 Olympians and 60 Paralympians will need to go to Beijing, along with support staff that numbers into the hundreds. Almost half the team will be travelling to China from Europe he noted, further complicating the transport picture.

Adams says the first playbook from Beijing 2022 is expected this week that will explain in detail the protocols Olympic visitors will need to follow for their arrivals next February and March.

With few commercial flights currently available to Beijing from anywhere across the globe, charters may be the only option to send athletes to China.

Delta Air Lines, the current USOPC airline sponsor, is not planning to resume its regular service to China until March 2022, after the Olympics and Paralympics. Delta, based in Atlanta, provides charter services for professional sports teams from the city such as the Atlanta Braves. The airline returned as a USOPC sponsor in 2020, taking over the airline category for the committee held for years by United. Delta was a sponsor for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

The logistics of travel will not include friends and family of Beijing-bound athletes. Beijing organizers have already announced that only residents of China will be able to obtain tickets to the Games.

The absence of family and friends is one of the ongoing issues the USOPC is dealing with as it relates to the mental health and well-being of competitors. Applying lessons learned from Tokyo where not even Japanese were allowed to purchase tickets, Adams says the USOPC is planning to increase the level of engagement in Beijing between athletes and friends and family in the U.S.

USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland (USOPC)
USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland (USOPC)

USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland says a trip being planned for her and leaders of the Salt Lake City group seeking a return of the Winter Games, is meant to “listen and learn”. The Utah capital has been chosen by the USOPC as its nominee for a Winter Olympics, either for 2030 or 2034. Hirshland said she does not expect the meeting to result in a declaration of which of those dates will be pursued.

Hirshland acknowledged that athletes competing in Beijing may want to speak out on political issues, such as human rights issues in the host country. She says the USOPC will make sure athletes have all the information they need ahead of Beijing, including any risks from speaking out.

“It’s important for athletes to understand we are a guest at these Games,” she said, adding that it is not the place of the USOPC to weigh-in on the politics of other nations.