The Olympic trip is a big challenge for some teams in the Pacific Islands


WELLINGTON – Famous athletes in sports like tennis and golf heading to the Tokyo Olympics will likely arrive in Japan at the front of the plane.

It’s a style that athletes in the Pacific Islands are not used to. The gold medalist Fijian rugby sevens team will arrive in Tokyo on Thursday with the rest of its national team on a cargo / freight flight that mainly carries frozen fish.

Commercial passenger flights to and from Pacific countries have become scarce during the pandemic. Lorraine Mar, executive director of the Fijian Sports Association and the National Olympic Committee, said on Wednesday that organizing the Fijian team’s trip to Tokyo had been a “logistical challenge”.

Mar said around 51 athletes and officials, mostly Fijian men and seven-a-side teams, will be on Thursday’s flight from Fiji’s main international airport to Nadi. It is a regular cargo flight that has some capacity for passengers.

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The Sevens teams were recently based in Australia where the Fijian men won the Oceania Sevens title in Townsville, Queensland two weeks ago. The men’s team gave Fiji its first-ever Olympic gold medal by winning the inaugural Olympic rugby sevens tournament in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Fijian teams were originally scheduled to fly directly from Australia to Tokyo, but plans were changed at the last minute due to new COVID-19 restrictions in Asia.

In addition to the seven-a-side teams, the Fiji team includes a track and field athlete, two swimmers, a table tennis player and a judoka currently based in Japan.

Mar said managing athlete departures from Japan is also a challenge. The IOC requires that athletes leave the Olympic Village within 48 hours of the end of their events.

Fiji has booked a flight from Tokyo to Nadi on July 29, after the seven-a-side tournament ended and could also carry other eliminated or finished athletes. Another flight is booked on August 10.

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Mar hopes the IOC will grant a waiver for athletes who cannot immediately get a return flight to stay in the village until travel is available.

Among other Pacific island countries, Samoa has already withdrawn its three weightlifting members from the games as all are based in Samoa and the government of Samoa is concerned about the spread of COVID-19 in Japan. Eight Samoan athletes based abroad will continue to compete.

They include two Australia-based boxers, four New Zealand-based sailors and canoeists, a US-based track athlete and a Japan-based judoka.

Tonga will send six competitors, all but two based overseas. Among them was Pita Taufatofua – the “naked Tongan” – who was a shirtless sensation when he carried the Tongan flag during the opening ceremony of the Rio games.

Taufatofua, who will compete in taekwondo in Tokyo, also represented Tonga in cross-country skiing at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

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