Indian hockey team goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, who reached Tokyo on Sunday morning to participate in the COVID-hit Olympics scheduled to begin on Friday, shares his first impressions of the Japanese capital.
"Over the past one-and-a-half decades, I have been to many countries with the national hockey team. However, this is my maiden trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. It was around 11 am (local time) when we landed in the Japanese capital from New Delhi in a chartered Air India flight. The two countries are in different time zones and Japan is 3.30 hours ahead of India. Normally, it takes only about 1.5 hours from Tokyo International Airport to reach the Games Village. Though we touched down at the airport around 11 am, it was around 7.30 pm when we reached the accommodation centre. These are definitely some strange, strange times!"
Throughout the journey, beginning from the Sport Authority of India (SAI) centre in Bengaluru, we were in a 'bubble shield' to keep COVID-19 at bay. Never before, I had enjoyed such a VIP treatment while traveling!
There were strict COVID-19 aviation guidelines in place in order to protect the health of passengers and aviation personnel and reduce the risk of the virus transmission. We reached Delhi in the evening, but the connecting flight to Tokyo was at 10.30 pm. So the entire contingent was shifted to a hotel near the airport. Around 8.30, we returned to the airport terminal and were surprised to see airport staff and airline personnel standing in line holding placards and wishing us success. I was truly touched by their gesture. Union Minister for Sports Anurag Thakur and Indian Olympic Association president Narinder Batra too extended their best wishes to the squad.
While on board, necessary precautions were to be followed. It was mandatory to wear protective gears and middle seats were kept vacant.
We were accorded a warm welcome by Olympic volunteers when we landed in Tokyo. Thereafter, all of us were asked to assemble in a room in order to verify the delegation's accreditation information. As the COVID-19 testing centre was on the other side of the terminal, we had to take a long walk around the airport.
I am used to nasal swab testing, but here we had to undergo saliva tests. I found it more comfortable. Not a single shop at the airport was open, but luckily I had kept an 'emergency snack kit' and that was my lunch for the day! Our luggage was cleared after some time, but we had to endure a long wait for the COVID test result. Finally, much to our relief, all of us tested negative for coronavirus.
Inside the Games Village
A special bus was arranged for us to travel to the Games Village. The city looked clean and tidy. As you know, Japan is a technological superpower and it reflects in their approach to urban planning.
We had to wait for one more hour at the entrance of the Games Village. It is an aesthetically designed township with hundreds of rows of beautiful apartments. The Indian contingent is lodged in a two-storey flat complex. Each apartment has two rooms shared by four athletes. Defender Birendra Lakra is my roommate. We are not allowed to cook. There are hundreds of food options with dishes from across the world available at the common dining hall, but I felt a bit hesitant to experiment. We're living through uncertain times, so it is better to be cautious!
This is my third Olympics. I'm fully focussed on realising my dream of an Olympic medal."