(RNS) — It’s been dubbed the first “no-fun” Olympics.
Athletes have been asked to eat alone and maintain distance in the dining hall at the Olympic Village in Tokyo, and compete in empty stadiums.
Even chaplains looking after athletes’ spiritual health largely have gone virtual.
Amid the changes at the Tokyo Olympics — which kicked off Friday (July 23) after a yearlong delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, still devastating many participating countries — are adjustments to the way the Games are accommodating athletes’ religious needs, as well as to the way outside groups are able to share their faith with Olympians and their fans.
Those changes come as Japan declares a fourth state of emergency in the Tokyo area as COVID-19 infections continue to climb there.
Will Thompson, Japan director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, explained why those accommodations are important for athletes, who he said are “created as physical, mental, and spiritual beings.”
“When failure, injury, disappointment, or unfulfillment comes, there is rarely appropriate support for these athletes to truly relate to them in a way that fully ministers to them,” Thompson said, “not a fan or asking anything of them as they so often experience. To meet them as they are, where they are, as a fellow human in need of spiritual encouragement and direction, is very important, and can greatly impact their lives on and off the field of competition.”
At the last Summer Olympics, in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, the Olympic Village featured a multifaith center with chaplains and prayer spaces representing Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism.
Tokyo’s Olympic Village also will include a multifaith center, the Tokyo 2020 International Communications Team confirmed.
“The Villages will include a multi-faith centre to provide athletes with suitable facilities for religious services and prayers,” it said in a statement provided to Religion News Service. “Tokyo 2020 is liaising with the local faith and religious groups for planning and resourcing the multi-faith centre.”
But accommodations provided by the center will look different from those in past Olympic years in order to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.