Sports

With the Olympics One Week Away, COVID-19 Clusters Fuel Fears Among Athletes

The 2020 Olympics begin with the festive opening ceremony on Friday, July 23. But it’s going to be a very different Olympics due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, athletes who win gold, silver or bronze medals will put their awards around their necks, instead of an Olympics representative.

There will not be anyone in the seats to cheer athletes on to victory.

But perhaps more troubling are announcements of COVID-19 clusters that continue to spring up among cloistered teams as they await the start of the games.

In some regards, participating athletes now understand that they are “entering at their own risk.” Some have chosen to continue in their quest for the gold while others have decided to forgo the prestigious competition.

In a report from Reuters, a COVID-19 cluster at a Japanese hotel, where dozens of Brazilian Olympic team members are staying, has raised new concerns about infections at the Tokyo Games, as the host city recorded its highest number of new cases for six months.

Just over a week before the opening ceremony, the spreading infections highlight the risks of staging the world’s biggest sports event during a pandemic even without spectators in sports venues.

Seven staff at the hotel in Hamamatsu city, southwest of Tokyo, had tested positive for the coronavirus, a city official said.

But a 31-strong Brazilian Olympic delegation, which includes judo athletes, are in a “bubble” in the hotel and separated from other guests and have not been infected.

The Russian women’s rugby sevens team were also in isolation after their masseur tested positive for COVID-19, the RIA news agency reported from Moscow — as was part of the South African men’s rugby team after a case on their inbound flight.

Highly contagious virus variants have fueled the latest wave of infections and failure to vaccinate people faster has left Japan’s population vulnerable.

Tokyo, where a state of emergency has been imposed until after the Games end on Aug. 8, recorded 1,149 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the most since Jan. 22.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach praised organizers and the Japanese people for staging the event in the midst of the pandemic.

“These will be historic Olympic Games … for the way how the Japanese people overcame so many challenges in the last couple of years,” Bach told reporters after meeting Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

Global interest in the Tokyo Olympics remains muted according to an Ipsos poll of 28 countries as many high-profile athletes have already withdrawn from the games.

The poll released on Tuesday found a global average of 46% interest in the Games and in Japan 78% of people were against the Games going ahead.

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