Posted in Behind the News

Covering the Olympics during a pandemic

, by Patrick Maks

AP Deputy Sports Editor Howie Rumberg, in Tokyo for the Summer Games, describes what it’s been like to cover the Olympics in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Olympics are a massive undertaking. What all goes into AP’s planning and coverage in a regular year, and during a pandemic?

AP photographer Martin Meissner takes photos at the Summer Olympics, July 24, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

In a normal year, it’s like setting up a small business with all sorts of logistics and planning, plus a huge technology build when we near the opening of the Games. A small group of managers gets everyone accredited, housed, flights and trained for the intense experience. Our colleagues in Technology then ship an office to the location. The techs arrive about a month early and not only build a temporary bureau in the Main Press Center but also cable every venue for photographers and text reporters. Photographers, at same time, mount specialty cameras at various venues for those superb photos that customers expect from us.

During the pandemic Olympics there have been layers of protocols, regulations and restrictions to be dealt with for getting everyone into the country and keeping them safe while here. It was quite an overwhelming task that was added to the usual intensive Olympics prep.

What’s AP’s setup in Tokyo like?

Our pandemic-reduced staff of 150 is based out of the Main Press Center, a temporary 400-square-footoffice in a massive convention hall. Every venue’s press operations is wired so AP staff can have clean, fast lines into the AP network for fast filing of photos and text reports.

Elaine Thompson-Herah, of Jamaica, leads the field in the final of the women's 200-meters at the Summer Olympics, Aug. 3, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

How has coverage of the Olympics changed over the years? How has it been different this year, if at all?

Coverage has gone from results-based, sport-specific coverage to a broader look at sports through multiple lenses from results to personal stories to the social and political issues of the times and how they are amplified by the Olympics. We now emphasize giving readers and viewers a sense of place and the context to understand the broader meaning of the Games, while rejoicing in the athletic achievements.

A challenge specific to this year is getting access under the strict virus prevention regulations set by the Japanese government. It’s taken a creative approach and lots of help from AP’s Tokyo bureau for outside-the-venue stories.

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