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Vancouver Island TV veteran works his 12th Olympiad in Japan this summer

Henry Irizawa has been a fixture behind the scenes for TV sports for decades
Comox’s Henry Irizawa holds his credentials for the upcoming Olympics, the 12th one he’s worked. Photo by Mike Chouinard

When Henry Irizawa leaves Comox this week for Tokyo, he’ll be off to cover his 12th Olympic Games.

It’ll be different because of the COVID-19 situation in Japan, which has prompted the Japanese government, with the support of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the International Paralympic Committee, Japanese Olympic organizers and local government officials in Tokyo, to restrict fans from the venues.

“Fans are such a big part of it,” he says. “They create the atmosphere.”

He’s had some experience before with Olympiads and viruses, as he worked the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016, when there were concerns because of the Zika virus outbreak.

“It’s always something,” he says.

RELATED STORY: Veteran TV director Henry Irizawa covering his 10th Olympics

The situation in 2021 is unique though. He says broadcasters will be undergoing a “soft” quarantine for three days upon arrival, and there are strict guidelines, including mask-wearing.

“Repeat every day. It’s Groundhog Day. Absolutely no sightseeing,” he says. “We’re staying within the compound. Masks on all the time. The COVID protocols that they arranged are really strict. There’ll be no exceptions made.”

Basically, the crews will be shuttled between their hotel and the venue, with no chance to diverge from the routes. It’s strictly business and strict health guidelines for the thousands of TV crew members, media members and athletes.

A veteran of sports broadcasting, Irizawa started in TV at a local station in Kelowna, where he grew up. He moved to CBC early in his career, going into sports before long, which included Hockey Night in Canada, a program he grew up watching that helped foster his career choice.

He followed this with other jobs, such as working with BCTV, and has been freelancing since 1998, picking up a lot of work covering West Coast games for the NHL, especially for the Edmonton Oilers. He started with a Canucks-Kings game back in 1972 and ended with a Canucks’ home stand.

“I finished my last season of NHL hockey for Sportsnet this year,” he says.

As he’s said before, directing coverage of Canadian icon Terry Fox’s funeral was perhaps the most special event he’s worked on during his many years. Among countless sports memories, he was working the game in 1994 when Wayne Gretzky scored his 802nd career goal to break Gordie Howe’s all-time record. “Kirk McLean,” he says, answering a trivia question that doesn’t even need to be asked. (The Canuck goalie on whom Gretzky scored, in case you’re wondering.)

As a freelancer, he works directly for the Olympic Broadcast Services (OBS), which provides comprehensive, unbiased coverage of the events.

“They’re the television arm of IOC,” he says.

For these games, Irizawa will be covering volleyball. He’s also done hockey and curling at Winter Olympics in the past. His work before was in directing, but more recently, he’s stepped out of the broadcast truck to work as production manager, which includes a lot of liaison work. With pandemic restrictions in place, he’s not sure exactly how that aspect of the job will play out.

“Our job is to make it look flawless to the viewer,” he says.

With as much as he’s covered already, he’s still planning on working at future Olympiads in 2022 and 2024, and his wife Judie is already making plans to attend some of the events when they head to Europe.

“Don’t forget to tell him you are going to do Paris,” she laughs, as she tells him from inside the house.

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