Coronavirus concerns have led to a long delay in the European masters indoor championships, originally set for March 15-21 in Braga, Portugal. The meet will be pushed back 10 months to January 2021. But organizers of WMA worlds in Toronto say that meet is still on track for July 20-August 1.
USATF HQ in Indy issued a statement March 3: “USATF wants to assure you that we take the health, safety, and well-being of our membership very seriously…. Currently, all events are proceeding as planned. Please understand, we are following guidance issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC. … As the situation continues to evolve, updates to the membership will follow, when appropriate. Rest assured, any changes to the event schedule will be promptly communicated to our constituents.”
Folks behind the Tokyo Olympics, held at the same time as our world meet, are now looking at events with no fans in the stands.
Last week, the World Health Organization participated in a conference call with dozens of medical officers for the international sports federations that run the competitions at the Olympics.
The discussion turned to worst-case scenarios for the Olympic Games, and the risks and benefits of a fan-free Olympics, according to several people familiar with the nearly two-hour call, all of whom requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about a conversation the W.H.O. deemed private. Holding fan-free competitions, with only sports officials and broadcasters as spectators, was one of a number of options suggested for managing large sporting events in the weeks and months before the Games.
According to the people, an expert from the W.H.O. on the call said that the most important thing would be to create a screening process for participants, athletes, fans and others, and to create a risk profile of countries and regions. Participants on the call also discussed the different risk profiles of indoor and outdoor events, as well as those for contact and non-contact sports.
Here’s how the news developed in Europe:
On March 2, EMA President Kurt Kaschke of Germany wrote:
For the first time in our EMA history we are confronted with a special international natural disaster – the Corona Virus – that governments try to handle the best they can. The official authorities do not know much about the new Corona Virus. That is one of the reasons why they need to be very strict in their decisions.
Italy has now the big burden to carry. Our Italian friends are in some regions trapped and are not allowed to move. This might happen in the other European countries as well. We do not know if France, Spain or Portugal tries to control the traffic and perhaps will stop athletes from their home country to cross the border. We do not know who would be able to travel to Braga. There are many questions that cannot be answered yet.
EMA and the organizer of EMACI2020 are very concerned about our 3150 athletes who entered the event. How could we be able to protect you all should anyone come up with the Corona Virus during the event?
Tomorrow (3rd of March) I will meet the officials of the LOC and the City representatives of Braga to talk about the status quo and the decision that must be made. On the 4th we will present a solution that is based on the discussion between the LOC, EMA and the Portuguese Ministry of Health.
On March 3, Sameiro Araújo of Braga City Hall and LOC president wrote:
Dear participants of EMACI 2020 Braga,
It is common knowledge, regardless of country or nationality, that we live our daily lives with an unequal struggle with an invisible, dangerous and easily transmitted.
This danger, under the name of new coronavírus (COVID-19), has dramatically affected our daily routines, causing different responses, from country to country, depending on the volume of people infected.
Despite various interpretations of the danger of this virus, all government agencies have promoted a wide range of measures, restrictions and policies that aim to create measures to contain the spread of the virus.
The General Directorate of Health, a governmental entity that directs health in Portugal, defined a series of parameters that allow a risk assessment to be carried out, in the light of existing scientific knowledge.
In carrying out this assessment, it was concluded that EMACI 2020 Braga, is assumed as a high-risk sport event, due to the fact that it eminently takes place indoors, comprising a total of more than 3,000 participants, with an advanced age and coming from 51 countries, some with high incidence rates of COVID-19.
This analysis also found that any containment measures that can be adopted to reduce the risk of spreading the disease do not seem, in the sporting context in which it is carried out, sufficient guarantee to reduce the risk of disease transmission.
In view of the assumptions of this analysis, the organization decided to present the maintenance of this event to the Municipal Commission of Civil Protection, an organization that integrates all the entities responsible for the safety of the people who are part of the Braga community, such as the city council, civil protection, Ministry of Health, Public Health Organization, security forces, among others.
It was unanimously recommended that EMACI 2020 Braga not be held, not only because the safety of the participants, organization, judges and volunteers was not guaranteed, but also because the city itself and the country could suffer consequences with this sports event.
In view of this strong recommendation, which is associated with a high risk analysis by the General Directorate of Portuguese Health, the EMACI 2020 Braga organization cannot fail to hold this important sport event, which would certainly mark the sports history of Braga and Portugal.
As an entity responsible for the safety of all participants and their families, the Local Organizing Committee, despite the extreme work and investments already made so far, is absolutely unable to ensure this safety, something fundamental to the success that we all desired with this championship.
We understand the dissatisfaction that this measure may cause in the more than 3,150 participants who would have been with us in Braga, from March 15th to 21st, but we would certainly live a period of extreme uncertainty, which could end in a tragic way, something that we would not be able to bear on our conscience.
For us, the organizing entity, we understand that life is more important than holding a sport event.
However, considering the responsibility we assumed when we became the organizing city of EMACI 2020 Braga and the importance of this sport event, we present to the European Master Athletics our total willingness to postpone this championship to January 2021 (10th to 17th), thus allowing its realization.
We thank you all for understanding this decision-making, which of course was extremely difficult to take, but which in conscience we understand that it would be the best option for everyone.
We sincerely hope that you will be here with us in January 2021. We count on all of you.
On March 4, Britain’s Bridget Cushen wrote on the WMA website:
Disappointment but understandable news for the 3,155 competitors from 51 nations who were about to pack their bags to travel to the lovely seaside city of Braga on Portugal’s Atlantic coast for the biennial European Masters Athletics Indoor Championships being staged there from 15-21 March, this time there was some hesitation. Italy, with 206 athletes entered, is in lock-down due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 in the North of that country. Britain with the largest entry – 347, plus spectators, is another country whose Government is now making preparations for a possible pandemic. Spain, Portugal’s next door neighbour has reported an outbreak of the virus as well as several other European countries.
It was therefore expected that for the first time since its inauguration in Sindlefingen in 2004, this popular event that is also opened to non-European competitors, would have to be postponed or cancelled. Unfortunately some athletes may suffer an inevitable financial loss. Non-European entries had been received from as far away as India, Chile, USA, Jamaica and one from Togo.
On Wednesday 4 March, a joint statement from Braga City Hall Vice President, Ministry of Health and EMA President Kurt Kaschke was issued announcing the postponement of the Championships until 10-17 January 2021.
And on March 5, the Toronto 2020 LOC and WMA Council said in a joint statement:
The health and safety of all of our participants is our first priority. At this time, the Championships are scheduled to take place as planned, however we are monitoring the situation and will advise if there are any changes to that decision.
The City of Toronto and the Government of Ontario has measures in place, to help screen, contain and treat instances of COVID-19 coming into the province and at the time being we would encourage all participants to monitor their own health and as well, to ensure that their travel plans are still viable. We will have appropriate measures in place to ensure we minimize risk and support a safe environment for our athletes.
Please see Government of Canada Public Health Services page for more information on how to safeguard yourself.
So what to do if you’re ticketed for Toronto?
I know I’m still planning to go. I have AirBnB reservations near the main track but haven’t yet decided which events to enter. (The more events, the better chance YOU have to beat someone in M65.)
I’m sure meet director Doug Shaggy Smith is doing his best to save the meet. But it may be out of his hands if Canadian and other national authorities say the event is off.
Keep your fingers crossed.
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