COVID Rules at Tokyo Olympics, What Happens When Athletes Test Positive Like Jon Rahm?

The Tokyo Olympics are taking place amid fears that the global sporting event could lead to more COVID cases in the ongoing pandemic. Spanish golfing champion Jon Rahm is among the latest to test positive and have to pull out of the Games on Sunday.

In early July, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Sports Federations (IFs) published guidelines for managing the Games when infections are confirmed during the Tokyo Olympics. The rules vary for different sports.

On Sunday, the Spanish Olympic Committee said Rahm—who is the current world number one golfer, according to the Official World Golf Ranking and was the first Spaniard to win the U.S. Open in June—won't be participating in the Tokyo Olympics golf tournament after testing positive before he departed for Japan.

The International Golf Federation announced on Monday that Rahm would be replaced by Spain's Jorge Campillo, after the Spanish Olympic Committee previously said Rahm wouldn't be replaced due to time constraints, with the first round beginning on July 29.

What Happens When Athletes Test Positive?

According to the Tokyo 2020 Sport-Specific Regulations (SSR) developed by the IOC and IFs, the protocols vary depending on the sport category.

The regulations outline "how any impacts of a confirmed positive COVID-19 case would be managed in competition formats and structures," according to the Tokyo Olympics website.

The international bodies said the implementation of the SSR is "subject to the individual circumstances of each situation and in particular the timing at which the COVID-19 cases are confirmed relative to the start of the respective competition impacted, as well as the applicable International Federation's rules and regulations."

"The aim is for all the competitions to go ahead as per the planned competition schedule," the Tokyo 2020 website says.

A woman near a Tokyo 2020 poster.
A woman walking past a Tokyo 2020 poster during a test of potential spectator and games screening measures held in October 2020 ahead of the Games in Tokyo, Japan. Charly Triballeau/AFP via Getty Images

Specific rules, such as whether the athlete would be replaced, who would be their replacement and whether their scores would still count, differ on a "sport-by-sport basis," with various sports having different team structures and tournament formats.

However, in June the IOC executive board outlined "three main principles" regarding COVID cases confirmed among athletes at the Tokyo Games "to provide consistency across sports where possible." They include the following, as noted at the Tokyo 2020 website:

  • No athlete or team should be designated as "disqualified" for COVID-19 reasons, instead "Did Not Start (DNS)" or an equivalent sport-specific designation will be used where the athletes or team cannot take part in competition.
  • The minimum result of the athlete/team will be protected, considering the phase of competition at which they could not compete.
  • Where possible the place of an athlete or team unable to compete will be filled by the next most eligible athlete or team, allowing events to go ahead where possible and medals to be competed for on the field of play.
COVID-19 sign at Tokyo Stadium in 2021.
Olympic mascots displayed on a COVID temperature check sign seen at the Tokyo Stadium on July 25 in Tokyo, Japan. Carl Court/Getty Images

In the latest incident regarding Rahm, the SSR for golf states that athletes are "marked as DNS in case they cannot start the competition due to COVID-19."

However, once the competition has started and there is a confirmed case, "the athlete will not be disqualified and will be marked as WD (Withdrawal). The competition will go ahead with one athlete less and the result of the withdrawn athlete will remain and be considered as final," the SSR explains.

See the Tokyo 2020 website for full details on the regulations for each sport.

Jon Rahm at the 2021 PGA Championship.
Spanish golfer Jon Rahm competing in the 2021 PGA Championship in May in Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Rahm was pulled from participating in the Tokyo Olympics golf tournament on Sunday after he tested COVID-19 positive. Stacy Revere/Getty Images