China’s state anti-doping agency (CHINADA) “temporarily” suspends its doping controls almost six months before the Tokyo Olympics. This step is a response to the coronavirus epidemic. “We are careful in the current situation so as not to endanger athletes or control officers,” reported the International Test Agency (ITA). “Although the importance of anti-doping activities is recognized, the priority is to maintain public health for all.”
The CHINADA will “gradually resume testing as the situation improves,” said the ITA, adding that it is testing whether “private providers” can conduct testing. “We are six months from the Tokyo Games,” said an ITA spokeswoman. “Indeed, it is likely that this will affect test missions in China and solutions will need to be found.”
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is monitoring progress in China. “We are supporting CHINADA in implementing a plan that will maintain the integrity of the anti-doping program in China,” said a WADA spokesman.
It is up to anti-doping organizations like ITA and CHINADA to ensure that “despite the outbreak, the athletes continue to be properly tested”. In 2017, WADA was the third hardest national agency after Germany and Great Britain with more than 10,000 tests.
Worry in Tokyo
The head of the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB), Alfons Hörmann, described the new virus as “the greatest risk on the way to the Olympic Games in Tokyo”. “This is a serious problem,” continues Hörmann, “because there is no other area in life that lives more from the international exchange than sport.” Also alarmed by the coronavirus, Tokyo’s governor raised the alarm about half a year before the Olympics: “We have to take vigorous action to contain the new coronavirus or we will regret it,” warned Yuriko Koike. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is “in contact with the World Health Organization WHO and its experts,” the IOC said on request. ”
So far 20 cases of the new pathogen have been confirmed in Japan. For fear of further contagions with lung disease, drastic measures are already being taken. A cancellation of the Olympic Games, which are due to start on July 24, has so far not been considered.
Cancellation by athletes and skiers
In China, on the other hand, major sporting events have already been canceled: the games in the Asian Football Champions League, in which Chinese clubs are involved, have been postponed. The Formula E race planned for March 21 in Sanya, China has been canceled. The World Athletics Indoor Championships will also not take place in Nanjing from March 13 to 15 as planned. Besides, the International Ski Association FIS has canceled the men’s Alpine World Cup races planned for February 15 and 16 in Yanqing. “Unfortunately, we were forced to make this difficult decision as it is the first-ever FIS Ski World Cup in China and the first official test for the 2022 Olympics in Beijing,” said FIS President Gian Franco Kasper.
German riders like Thomas Dreßen would have been free to decide whether to participate, emphasized Stefan Schwarzbach of the German Ski Association (DSV) to DW before the FIS decision was made: “This is how we handled it in comparable cases. We agree with us usually with the medical commission of the DOSB, which gives us and the athletes an assessment of such situations. “
The risk of infection would not have been the biggest concern. The association, teams and participating ski companies had rather feared that a situation could arise during the competitions in which the teams could no longer travel abroad. Since the competitions are canceled, you no longer have to worry about this.
Expert: Strict rules to combat the virus make sense
A scenario that cannot be dismissed out of hand because, unlike the 2002 SARS outbreak in 2002, the Chinese government is demonstratively determined fought the outbreak of lung disease and, among other things, imposed strict travel restrictions. Sports events such as the Asian indoor athletics championships in Hangzhou planned for February have been canceled and some more have been moved to other countries. A correct step from the perspective of Professor Martin Exner. “The Chinese authorities have decided to take very extensive measures because it can be assumed that we do not yet know much about the source and transmission of the disease,” explains the director of the Institute for Hygiene and Public Health at the University Hospital in Bonn for example in a stadium, should be avoided first. These are proven measures. “
At the present time, the risk of spreading is great, according to Exner, and as long as no vaccine or effective therapy has been found, the classic measures of hygiene have to curb the disease. “The World Health Organization (WHO) is a very important institution,” emphasizes the expert. The sports associations also make their decisions based on their risk assessment. The all-clear can only come if the number of infections stagnates or decreases, “but this point is currently not foreseeable.”
The virus and the dream of Olympia
Sports medicine specialist Dr. Holds that authorities and WHO experts are attentive to keeping the disease at bay. Michael Fritz for important, but sees no reason for a great fear of viruses. “What we know about the disease so far suggests that it is no more serious or fatal than normal flu,” said Fritz. During the last severe flu wave in winter 2017/18, around 25,000 people died in Germany alone. “Nevertheless, not a single Bundesliga matchday was canceled, even though there are tens of thousands of fans in the stadium,” said Fritz.
However, it is clear why athletes fear an infection with the coronavirus. Participation in the Olympic Games, an absolute career highlight for most, would be in danger. An infection would throw preparation completely off the rails, or could even have long-term consequences. “Such serious viral diseases can trigger myocarditis,” explains sports medicine specialist Fritz. It sometimes takes a long time to return to full performance afterward.