Skip to content

Draft coronavirus measures highlight headaches facing Tokyo 2020

by ZwemZa on October 18th, 2020

Athletes’ movements could be restricted at the Games to approved sites ©Getty Images

The resumption of sporting events has unsurprisingly led to a rise in the number of athletes testing positive for coronavirus in recent weeks.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s positive test garnered the most headlines during the recent window of international football, but cases were reported in the France, Ireland, Scotland and Ukraine squads in Europe.

A game between the Gambian and Guinean national teams was called off following a spate of coronavirus cases in the latter’s squad.

Tennis has seen Fabio Fognini and Sam Querrey ruled out of events after positives, with the latter’s alleged flight from Russia proving an extraordinary episode.

Both Mitchelton-Scott and Jumbo-Visma withdraw from the Giro d’Italia last week after positives, prompting suggestions the race may not reach its conclusion next week. Team Sunweb’s Michael Matthews was also forced to leave the race after a positive test. Matthews has twice tested negative since leaving the Grand Tour, but his team have said this does not prove the rest-day test was a false positive.

Athletes being forced to withdraw from major events and to self-isolate appears like something we are going to have to get used to. Understandably so.

It is not impossible that, should Tokyo 2020 go ahead next year, a number of the around 11,000 athletes will see their dreams dashed by a positive test.

I imagine missing selection for an Olympic team or a late injury forcing your withdrawal would be tough blows to overcome. The prospect of missing the Games through a positive coronavirus test or worse, a false positive, would be an even more brutal, particularly after waiting a year following the postponement.

The prospect was highlighted during the Tokyo 2020 Coordination Commission meeting last month by John Coates.

“It may require some changes to the rules of our International Federations (IFs) to provide if an athlete gets here and tests positive, there has to be a provision to take that athlete out of the Games in the same way we replace athletes with doping problems,” he said.

“There will have to be agreements with athletes to be tested. There may even have to be agreements, if there is a vaccine, that they will accept vaccines.

“We may have to adjust some entry rules and other guidelines to federations to deal with this situation.”

A coronavirus countermeasures taskforce, consisting of the Japanese Government, Tokyo Metropolitan Government and Tokyo 2020, referenced potential rules after its latest meeting.

Discussion points for the future included whether IFs are seeking to establish rules on testing methods or whether uniform rules will be implemented.

The taskforce highlighted the different conditions of the sports. They pose the question of whether separate rules may be needed for team sports compared to individual ones, as well as contact events.

Consideration of how test results would impact participation in competitions was another area raised, with organisers noting that requirements may be needed for the completion of events should athletes test positive and be excluded.

It could be a challenging area to consider moving forwards.

I suspect team sports could be impacted most should positive tests occur, given the likes of baseball and softball, football, hockey, handball, rugby sevens and water polo have group phases.

Positive tests preventing a team from competing in matches feasibly could have an impact on qualification to the knockout stage of events.

You would hope federations can produce clear and accepted guidelines should the an outbreak occur within a team. Nobody would want to see a team elevated up the standings due to another team being unable to take the field, but it is a possibility that needs consideration.

The taskforce has also highlighted the need to define who can be considered as people in “close contact” according to their sport, along with the frequency and timing of testing, as areas which need to be assessed.

Despite some positive cases, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Tokyo 2020 will have understandably been buoyed by the success of sporting events returning in bubbles.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) in particular succeeded in having no confirmed coronavirus cases in its bubble, which existed from July through to the conclusion of the NBA Finals in October 11.

As previously suggested in July, flying athletes, staff and members of the media from across the United States into one location, it is arguably the closest we will get to the conditions Tokyo 2020 will likely face next year.

The Olympic and Paralympic Village, in theory, could operate as its own bubble. Equally the Village could prove the biggest risk of a mass outbreak due to the large number of athletes set to reside in the complex.

The measures proposed to date by the taskforce seem to be largely common-sense ideas, such as daily checks of body temperature, increased ventilation and preventing congestion in areas such as dining facilities.

A “general principle” could limit the range of athletes’ movement to facilities managed by Tokyo 2020, such as competition venues and training facilities. The draft equally has suggested measures such as encouraging athletes and officials to travel only via designated vehicles, although limited public transport use may be acceptable if unavoidable.

Suggestions have also included reviewing the operations of medal ceremonies, as well as the practice of athletes watching competitions from spectator seating for virus-prevention purposes.

The taskforce has mooted the potential construction of facilities and systems for sample collections, as well as the prospect of an isolation facility being established.

While the measures are only at a draft stage, the suggestions have provided a further insight into the many challenges and considerations organisers will face regarding the pandemic next year, with health and competition integrity among the most pressing.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Note: XHTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: