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Coronavirus wreaks havoc on sports — including the 2020 Olympics

Four years ago, a media firestorm portrayed the Zika virus as one of the biggest threats to the 2016 Rio Olympics. Zika pales in comparison to concerns for what the Coronavirus can do to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Newsweek, Time Magazine, USA Today, and almost every major news station from CNBC to the BBC to Fox News have speculated how the deadly coronavirus that has killed almost more than 3,000 individuals in10 countries thus far may derail the Olympics.

Numerous skeptics have raised grave concerns that the Olympics should be cancelled or postponed for fear of the global pandemic spreading in the Asian corridor and throughout the world, where 38 counties have reported confirmed cases of the virus. As of February 26, Japan (172) ranked only behind China (78.073), South Korea (1,261) the Diamond Princess Cruise Line (704), and Italy (470) in the number of confirmed cases. Iran (139), Singapore (93), and Hong Kong (89) are the next three countries with the most reported cases of the coronavirus while the United States (60 cases) is ranked ninth.

The true impact the deadly coronavirus will have on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (July 24-August 7) and Paralympics (Aug. 25-Sept. 6) won’t be realized until long after the conclusion of the Games. Although longtime IOC representative Dick Pound has speculated that the IOC will need to make a firm decision by May (at the latest) whether to cancel the Olympics if the coronavirus isn’t contained, all travel plan are still on track for athletes, coaches, officials, and the Tiffin University group participating in the fifth Academic Experience with Olympians this summer. Tokyo likely is to experience a significant economic decline from their original predictions if spectators choose to avoid traveling amidst fears of contracting the deadly virus. There will likely be athletes and others, who purposefully withdraw from the Olympics due to rising concerns for their personal health, much in the same manner as individuals withdrew from Rio in 2016 due to the Zika scare. What will be difficult to account for, however, is the number of athletes who never got their shot at the 2020 Olympics because they were impacted by what has become a global public health emergency to contain the spread of the infectious, communicable disease.

Since the middle of January, a countless number of international sport events have been relocated, cancelled, or rescheduled, many which have been qualifiers for the 2020 Olympics. Not only has China shut down events, but other countries have cancelled tournaments and banned teams from entering their country. One of the first international events to relocate was a women’s Olympic qualifier that moved from Wuhan, China (the epicenter of the epidemic) to Sydney, Australia. The Chinese national team has remained quarantined in Australia since its arrival. Following are headlines from Inside the Games, a respected news source on the Olympics and international sport:

n Modern Pentathlon World Championships moved from China to Mexico due to coronavirus

n China to avoid competing in all international university sport events until May amid coronavirus outbreak

n Tokyo Governor criticises (sic) “inappropriate” offer from London to host Olympics because of coronavirus crisis

n Cyberattacks a bigger threat to Tokyo 2020 than coronavirus

n Mongolia’s archery team cancels Olympic training camp due to coronavirus

n Romania advances to Davis Cup World Group I after China withdraws over coronavirus

n Coronavirus outbreak forces China to withdraw from Artistic Gymnastics World Cup in Melbourne

n University sport events postponed in the Philippines during coronavirus outbreak

n Thailand replaces China in women’s handball Olympic qualifying due to coronavirus

n Coronavirus outbreak leads to LPGA cancelling events in Thailand and Singapore

n China and Hong Kong banned from Asian Badminton Championships

n UFC fighter and American football team change plans because of coronavirus

China was the epicenter for the deadly SARS epidemic in 2003, which impacted international sporting events, including FIFA’s women’s World Cup. Similar to the coronavirus impact, numerous events leading up to the 2004 Athens Olympics were relocated or cancelled. Some individuals have concluded that the fate of these auto respiratory diseases stemming in China is linked to some type of mysterious population control in a country where government policies long banned citizens from bearing more than one child.

The Japanese government has been vocal in their cooperation with the IOC and the World Health Organization (WHO) to assure that no effort will be spared to contain the spread of the disease and to ensure the Games will be a safe affair for athletes, coaches, officials, volunteers, and spectators. The Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games has established a Coronavirus Countermeasure Task Force with one of the biggest challenges likely being efforts to calm the rampant speculation of worst-case-scenarios.

As always, health and safety are the top priorities when coordinating international travel. Monitoring precautions and warnings centering on the Coronavirus will be paramount in preparing a health and safety information plan for the 2020 Academic Experience with Olympians in Japan. Travel medical insurance will be purchased for participants through Wells Fargo and a health, safety, and security briefing will occur prior to departure. In addition to providing emergency contact information and addressing sanitation procedures for protection from spreading germs, there is the possibility of distributing masks for participants to wear at their discretion. When in Rome, do as the Romans. When in Asia…

The primary hope is that the coronavirus will be contained and the 2020 Olympics will be remembered as another extraordinary piece of global sport history, free from health, safety, and wellness issues. Stay tuned next month for more interesting sport stories from around the globe, around the country, around the state, to right here in Tiffin, Ohio.

Bonnie Tiell is a professor of sports management at Tiffin University.

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