Olympics 2021

Can Olympians Party During The Games?

Olympic athletes can technically drink, but they’ll have to get creative to find booze.

Team USA celebrates after winning the gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics. Can Olympic athletes d...
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Training for the Olympics is rigorous work. Years of effort, specially tailored diets, and a strict schedule might seem like all work and no play. A lot of regular folks will hit up happy hour to blow off steam after a long week at their jobs, but can Olympians do the same? The rules at the Summer 2021 Olympics cover all kinds of health-related restrictions, but there seems to be no official policy against Olympic athletes consuming alcohol in their free time.

But that's where things start to get complicated. Whether Olympic athletes will be able to drink at all during the games is a bit of a logistical nightmare. No alcohol is sold within the Olympic Village itself, as was the case at Rio in 2016, but per a June 2021 Japan Times report, the Olympic Committee in Tokyo will permit athletes to bring alcoholic beverages into the Village from outside to consume in their rooms. The policy’s meant to stop athletes from socializing outside the Village, potentially spreading COVID-19. The Olympic Committee is also encouraging athletes to drink alone, per Sky News, rather than celebrating with other Olympians, again to keep COVID-19 from circulating. Per the 2021 Olympics rules, athletes can’t drink in public venues or any shared Village space, or have any parties. (In another 2021-specific departure from the Olympic Village rules, they’re no longer giving away free condoms to athletes until after the Games have finished.) Not exactly the free-for-all of Olympics past.

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To complicate things further, the Japanese government declared a state of emergency in Tokyo during the 2021 Games, due to escalating levels of COVID-19 and low levels of vaccination. Spectators will not be allowed at most events, and no alcohol will be sold at any of the venues. Local bars and restaurants are also banned from serving alcohol under the lockdown rules. So the question is less, “Can Olympic athletes drink at the games?” than, “Will Olympic athletes be able to get alcohol while in Tokyo?”

In addition to the host city’s rules, each team may set its own policies around athletes drinking, since there’s nothing like a hangover to mess with your mat gymnastics routine. Some individual teams have strict policies about their athletes hitting the sauce: Dutch gymnast Yuri van Gelder was expelled from the 2016 Brazil Olympic Games after drinking in Rio. Back in 2013, the Australian Olympic Committee started banning its own athletes from bringing any personal alcohol into the dormitories, but athletes were permitted to "drink responsibly" offsite. What’s more, even if it were a “normal” Olympics year, the legal drinking age in Japan is 20, and plenty of athletes are still in their teens.

So, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) technically has no problem with athletes legally having a few drinks in the host city, but any athlete who wants to drink during the 2021 Olympic Games is going to have to get pretty creative.

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