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ASCM Insights

Traversing a Labyrinth to the Tokyo Olympics


In a few weeks, Olympic athletes will run, bike, swim, climb and ride their way through miles of events to get to the gold. Between now and then, however, the pandemic is once again thwarting even the most everyday activities — and hindering athletes’ ability to properly train for the games.

In a normal year, moving competitors from more than 200 countries to the Olympic Village is quite a logistical undertaking. Now, amid flight cancellations and travel restrictions, many teams are forced to take circuitous routes and devise complicated contingency plans, Bloomberg reports. For example, athletes from Sri Lanka would normally fly to Singapore, then take a connecting flight to Tokyo. But Sri Lanka is on many countries’ banned lists because the island nation is averaging 2,000 COVID-19 cases a day. Thus, the 10-person team will first fly to Doha, Qatar, adding hours to their travel time. They also have a backup flight booked on SriLankan Airlines, just in case.

Contingency planning is proving to be critical. The Brazilian delegation scrambled to book on German airline Lufthansa after Air Canada canceled their original flights. “We had to make some necessary changes that demanded creativity,” said Brazilian Olympic Committee President Paulo Wanderley Teixeira.

Because Fiji Airlines isn’t currently offering commercial flights, the Fijian athletes are flying on a cargo plane that usually transports chilled seafood. Lorraine Mar, head of the Fiji Association of Sports and National Olympic Committee, said the country tried to coordinate with other South Pacific nations to pick up the athletes, but it just wasn’t possible. 

With everything going on, some players will make it to Tokyo just in time for a little warm-up before the games begin. Argentine sailor Santiago Lange, who took home a gold medal in 2016, told Bloomberg he would only have eight days to train in Japanese waters, which is simply inadequate.

Getting sporting gear to Tokyo is also a challenge. Typically, equipment-moving strategies are laid out three years in advance. For instance, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) usually packs its essentials in large sea freight containers and ships them to the destination country a few months before the games. Back in March, the COC had a scare when it sent sailing boats in shipping containers from Barcelona, where many sailors are training, to Tokyo.

“We were terrified there for a bit that our boats were going to get stuck in the Suez Canal,” Sailing Canada High Performance Director Mike Milner said in The Globe and Mail. “We were told our shipment didn’t get delayed, but I guess we’ll find out for sure in [a few] weeks.” 

Some of the most precious pieces of cargo — the horses for equestrian events — also have intricate and time-sensitive plans. Each horse’s health and whereabouts must be recorded for 60 days, before heading to Tokyo on a cargo plane with stalls, food and water, grooms, and vets onboard. Along the way, they stop for a mandatory seven-day quarantine in a secure bubble with other four-legged Olympians.

The skills to get there

This is definitely shaping up to be the most logistically intense Olympic Games. And as always, it’s the supply chain professionals behind the scenes who plan and replan, manage risk, and put together all of the pieces necessary to host a fantastic event.

Logistics is clearly an exciting element of the supply chain field. Individuals who earn the APICS Certified in Logistics, Transportation and Distribution (CLTD) designation are equipped with the skills required to efficiently move goods and people (and horses) and find innovative solutions to all kinds of challenges. Take the CLTD content for a spin and become your corporation’s logistical champion.

About the Author

Abe Eshkenazi, CSCP, CPA, CAE CEO, ASCM

Abe Eshkenazi is chief executive officer of the Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM), the largest organization for supply chain and the global pacesetter of organizational transformation, talent development and supply chain innovation. During his tenure, ASCM has significantly expanded its services to corporations, individuals and communities. Its revenue has more than doubled, and the association successfully completed three mergers in response to both heightened industry awareness and the vast and ongoing global impact driven by supply chains. Previously, Eshkenazi was the managing director of the Operations Consulting Group of American Express Tax and Business Services. He may be contacted at

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