Olympic Games and Chiropractic in 2020

Tom, Simeon and Una (a pharmacist from Ireland that joined us in the second half of the Olympics)

By Tom Greenway

In Japan, although chiropractic is recognised as a profession, it is not regulated and the number of internationally recognised chiropractors is very limited. This meant that under Japanese law having chiropractors formally involved at the Olympics was not really an option.

Despite the difficulties, three international volunteers were asked by TOCOG (Tokyo Organising Committee Olympic Games) to attend the Games: myself, Simeon Milton (an osteopath who was also the lead at London 2012 Olympics) and a pharmacist who had headed up pharmacy services at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018.

The complexities of Covid-19, international travel and Japanese regulations meant that getting the paperwork and testing done prior to our departure was extremely challenging. It eventually got sorted and, after three hours at Tokyo airport, including the first of our daily Covid-19 test, our Olympic journey began.

Tokyo was essentially locked down, so restaurants closed at 8pm meaning that we were reliant on Uber Eats or takeaways if we decided to leave the Olympic complex, a luxury that none of the athletes were able to enjoy.

My role was based in the Polyclinic, a small hospital, within the Olympic Village. It looked after all athletes from all sports and countries. It contained a pharmacy, dentistry, opticians, orthopaedics, internal medicine, physiotherapy, sports psychiatry and doping control.

The Polyclinic Clinic Physical Therapy Team.
Simeon Milton is the man in a white shirt.

Chiropractic and osteopathy were based, as we usually are, in the physiotherapy department, which also contained recovery ice baths, sports massage and acupuncture. The issues for us as the manual therapy team were huge at the beginning as the rules on how we could operate were not clear and our role there was not well defined. However, thankfully, we were joined by Masahiro Goto, a Japanese chiropractor, and with his support we were able to treat athletes.

The Games themselves were impressive. The venues, organisation and Olympic village were on a similar level to London. If it had not been for Covid-19, they would have been truly spectacular. All of the venues had full seating that had only been put in place a few weeks before the Games began, so when the government said there would be no spectators it made it so much more devastating somehow for those involved.

The Games felt much smaller than usual. This was partly due to athletes coming in only 3 days before competition and then having to leave within 48 hours after they had finished. It also made treating them trickier because we had to get the job done quite quickly. Seeing them daily was not unusual. We got a huge variety of athletes from different sports and countries. It never ceases to amaze me how the athletes found us and really appreciated that we were there. The challenge was to work out exactly what they wanted and what sort of chiropractic experience they had had prior to the Games. If you could provide that, they were absolutely delighted and the rewards were enormous.

Tom standing at the bottom of the 100m strip at the Olympic stadium before the 200m final.

In my opinion the Japanese did an incredible job putting on these Games at such a difficult time. Seeing how delighted the athletes were to be there, coupled with the heat, the lack of spectators, varied training schedules due to Covid-19 and it being a year late, they all felt they had a real chance to medal at these Games, which added to their excitement.

The frequency with which elite athletes seek chiropractic care gives the profession a voice and an opportunity. At this Games the International Olympic Committee actually recommended chiropractic inclusion to TOCOG. The inclusion of chiropractic care, despite the huge political difficulties, gives us something to celebrate and work with moving forwards.

For me, working with the other service providers was one of the highlights. They quickly appreciated what we can bring to the care of athletes, and we learned what they bring. I really believe that, as a profession, we should embrace this type of collaboration further, it can only be a good thing for us in the future.