For Japanese condom makers, the Tokyo Olympics were seen as a golden opportunity, with thousands of their innovative, ultra-thin prophylactic drugs given to hordes of curious tourists and athletes. But restrictions on foreign fans, strict virus rules and regulations have frustrated manufacturers to stop the distribution of their premium condoms to competitors. 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 meet in close quarters.
While organizers still hope to hand over 160,000 to the pandemic-postponed Games, which begin next month, virus rules should limit talks in the Olympic Village.
The rulebook for athletes specifically warns them to “avoid unnecessary forms of physical contact,” leading some to wonder why condoms are being distributed.
Japanese climber and environmental activist Ken Noguchi tweeted, “Planning them out is something I can’t figure out”.
Games organizers say condom distribution is to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, and the International Olympic Committee has called for handouts to continue this year despite the pandemic.
“The condoms distributed are not for use in the Olympic Village,” the organizing committee told AFP.
Instead they should be “brought back by athletes to their respective home countries and helped support the campaign to raise awareness”, he said.
While distribution is moving forward, there’s a wrinkle for manufacturers: a ban on their prized model, condoms that are just 0.01mm thick.
As Tokyo was named the host of 2020, Japanese condom firms ramped up their manufacturing to ensure maximum coverage in time for the Games.
According to the Japan Condom Industrial Association, it is now revealed that manufacturers can only distribute their own latex-based condoms, while the ultra-thin models are made from polyurethane.
“When I learned about the requirement, I thought, ‘Oh my god… could it be right? An industry source told AFP.
“We really trusted being able to offer these (ultra-thin).”
This is a far cry from the excitement in the race for the Games before it was postponed last year.
In 2018, major condom-maker Sagami Rubber Industries opened a new factory in Malaysia to meet the expected growth in demand.
“It’s only Japanese companies that now make condoms as thin as 0.01-0.02 mm,” spokesman Hiroshi Yamashita told AFP at the time.
“We see (the Tokyo Games) as an extremely valuable opportunity to tell the world about Japan’s high technology.”
The pandemic has brought tough times, with Japan’s borders effectively closed to tourists and Olympic organisers, except for foreign visitors, for the first time in history.
In Tokyo’s quaint Harajuku and busy Shibuya neighborhoods, condominium boutiques managed by Koji Negishi usually attract large numbers of tourists.
But “foreign tourists have basically disappeared from the region compared to 2019”, he told AFP.
Negishi’s shops stock a variety of products intended to attract visitors, from famous barely there prophylactics to souvenirs printed with the iconic Ukiyo woodblock print, such as the “Great Wave” with Mount Fuji in the background.
“Those designed as souvenirs don’t sell at all,” Negishi lamented.
“Now our shop is running thanks to regular customers in the neighborhood,” he said.
However, virus restrictions in Tokyo have also decimated the number of Japanese customers.
An industry source said that domestic tastes prefer condoms with added lubricants rather than ultra-thin styles.
“From a safe sex standpoint, we want people to use any condom, not any,” he said.
“So at the end of the day, whatever people choose because it feels good to them is a good thing for us.”
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