For Japanese condom makers, the Olympics was supposed to be a golden opportunity, with hordes of eager tourists and tens of thousands of their innovative, ultra-thin prophylactics given to athletes.
But a ban on overseas fans, strict virus rules, and regulations preventing the distribution of their premium condoms to competitors have left manufacturers deflated.
Since the 1988 Seoul Games, hundreds of thousands of free condoms have been distributed at the Olympics, to encourage safe sex as the world’s elite athletes mingle at close quarters.
While organizers are still expected to hand out 160,000 condoms at the pandemic-postponed Games, which start next month, virus rules should limit interaction in the Olympic Village.
The rulebook for athletes specifically warns them to “avoid unnecessary forms of physical contact,” leaving some wondering why condoms are being distributed at all.
The plan to give them out “is something I just cannot comprehend,” tweeted Ken Noguchi, a Japanese mountaineer and environmental activist.
Games organizers say distributing condoms is meant to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, and that the International Olympic Committee has asked for the handouts to continue this year, despite the pandemic.
“The distributed condoms are not meant to be used at the Olympic Village,” the organizing committee told AFP.
Instead they are supposed to be “brought back by athletes to their respective home countries and to help them support the campaign to raise awareness,” they added.
While the distribution is going ahead, there’s a wrinkle for manufacturers: a ban on their prized model, condoms that are just 0.01mm thick.
As soon as Tokyo was named 2020 host, Japanese condom firms thrust ahead with their manufacturing to ensure maximum coverage in time for the Games.
Now it turns out the manufacturers can only distribute their latex-based condoms, while the ultra-thin models are made of polyurethane, according to the Japan Condoms Industrial Association.
“When I learned about the requirement, I thought, ‘Oh my God... can that be right?” an industry source told AFP. “We had really counted on being able to offer these (ultra-thin) ones.”