Most Olympic athletes heading to the 2021 summer games in Tokyo are doing so in first class. Airlines typically donate the seats, or trip over each other to offer upgrades in exchange for photo ops.

Things are a little different for athletes from the Pacific Islands, especially this year. In the pandemic economy, already-infrequent flights to and from most Pacific Island nations have become very scarce, and in some cases, reduced to freight alone.

Fiji’s rugby sevens team, for instance, which took gold in the last Summer Olympics, will arrive in Tokyo on a freight flight hauling frozen fish.

Lorraine Mar, chief executive of the Fiji National Olympic Committee, called arranging the travel a “logistical challenge.” Approximately 51 athletes and officials will travel on the cargo flight.

Getting home, too, will be an issue, and Mar is seeking dispensation from the International Olympics committee for her teams to remain in the Olympic Village until travel becomes available.

For some other countries, the issues of travel and the chance of COVID-19 coming home with athletes is too much. Both Samoa and Tonga have withdrawn several athletes who are based on the islands because Japan is currently experiencing a surge of the Delta variant and travel is deemed too high a risk. Both island nations will still send athletes who are based abroad to the Olympics, and pose no risk the isolated islands.

The pandemic and its wide-ranging complications have cast a defining shadow on these games, which were meant to be held last year and have gone forward now only under great controversy. International spectators are banned from attending, meaning only Japanese citizens will be in the stands to watch the nations compete. Athletes have been severely restricted in bringing support teams, and countries have been asked to halve the number of officials they plan to send.

Photo: Night view of the Olympic Rings monument at the entrance of the Japan Olympic Museum created for promoting the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2021. Credit: kuremo /