News (World)

Viral claim that the Olympics provided athletes with “anti-sex beds” is quickly debunked

Viral claim that the Olympics provided athletes with “anti-sex beds” is quickly debunked
Rhys McClenaghan testing out the "anti-sex" Olympic beds. Photo: Screenshot/Twitter

As the Olympics prepare to get underway on Friday, there’s considerable concern about the continued spread of coronavirus and how it might affect the progress of the games. Organizers in Tokyo have already removed in-person spectators from all competitions, but those concerns have led many people to speculate on how far they will go to keep the Games going.

One notion that almost instantly went viral was that the athletes were forced to sleep on “anti-sex” beds, made out of cardboard that would collapse under the weight of more than one person. If it sounds too weird and logistically impossible to be true, it’s because it is.

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Temporary beds made with 100 percent recycled material are being used to furnish the rooms of athletes. They are, however, not meant to prevent them from having sex, although the Games are actively discouraging the activity.

The origin of the “anti-sex bed” concept apparently gained traction from a post by Olympic athlete Paul Chelimo, who wrote in a tweet on July 16, “Beds to be installed in Tokyo Olympic Village will be made of cardboard.” He followed up by saying, “This is aimed at avoiding intimacy among athletes.”

Chelimo made a series of jokes about the beds, but many took the tweet’s initial statement seriously and thought the beds were meant to prevent athletes from sharing a bed with anyone.

The “anti-sex” bed rumor got around quickly, especially via accounts — both satirical and not satirical in nature — on social media. Soon enough, it ended up being reported seriously in media outlets.

But as the New York Times and others reporting live from Tokyo would explain, that’s not their purpose.

The beds were planned in January 2020, long before the pandemic even caused the delay of the Games. They can hold at least 440 pounds of weight, and both the manufacturers and Olympic organizers even bragged that they may be sturdier than most wooden beds. While the bed frames are made of cardboard, the beds are furnished with not-cardboard mattresses.

Over 18,000 of them will be used between the Olympics and Paralympics over the next month. All the materials making up the bed will be recycled, with the cardboard frames being used to make paper and the mattress into plastic.

The Olympics have been discouraging “physical interaction” at the games in official guidance, including discouragement from sharing “hugs, high-fives and handshakes” with others. They’ve also decided to share about one-third of the condoms shared at the 2016 Rio Olympics and made clear that their use shouldn’t be needed until athletes return home.

21-year-old Irish Olympic gymnast Rhys McClenaghan, who’s been documenting his first Olympic journey online, made a video that just as swiftly debunked the “anti-sex” bed rumor. He jumped up and down on the bed with no problem.

“It’s fake news!” he proclaimed.

The Olympics thanked McClenaghan for clearing up the rumor.

Needless to say, though, online users erupted with a series of not-so-serious remarks about the video — and the athlete in it.


But still, this is an easy study case in how fast misinformation spreads, and how easily it can be debunked.

As writer Oliver Willis points out, however, everyone can have a part in combatting fake news, “Not everyone’s going to be as dynamic or attractive as this guy” when they do it.

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