Raging pandemic keeps top stars on their toes ahead of Olympics

Filed on May 11, 2021
Spanish tennis icon Rafael Nadal during a press conference on Tuesday. (Reuters)

Nadal cannot give a clear answer about his Olympic participation

Rafa Nadal raised doubts about his participation in this year’s Tokyo Olympics amid the Covid-19 pandemic after Japan’s top-ranked men’s and women’s players - Kei Nishikori and Naomi Osaka - have raised concerns about staging the Games amid the pandemic.

Nadal said on Tuesday that he has to be flexible and cannot give a clear answer until he organises his schedule for the year.

Japan has extended a state of emergency in Tokyo and three other areas until the end of May as the country battles a surge in Covid-19 cases, raising new questions about whether the rescheduled July 23-Aug. 8 Games should go ahead.

Nadal, who won a singles gold in Beijing 2008 and added a doubles title in Rio de Janeiro eight years later partnering Marc Lopez, said that he is yet to firm up his plans on travelling to Tokyo.

“I don’t know yet. Honestly I can’t give you a clear answer because I don’t know. I don’t know my calendar,” Nadal told a news conference at the Rome Masters.

“In a normal world I’ll never think about missing Olympics. There’s no doubt about that. Everybody knows how important it has been for me to always play in the Olympics.

“Under these circumstances, I don’t know. Let’s see what’s going on in the next couple of months. I need to organise my schedule... In a normal year, I know my schedule almost 100% from Jan. 1 until the end of the season.”

“This year is a bit different, no? We need to be flexible. We need to adapt about things that are happening,” Nadal said.

Japan’s top-ranked men’s tennis player Nishikori added his voice to concerns about staging the Olympic Games in Tokyo in July.

Osaka, Japan’s No.1 women’s tennis player, raised similar concerns on Sunday, saying that the risks of holding the Games amid the pandemic should continue to be carefully discussed.

“This is not like 100 people like these tournaments,” Nishikori said at the Italian Open in Rome on Monday.

“It’s 10,000 people in a Village, playing a tournament,” he added, referring to the Olympic Village where athletes will stay. “I don’t think it’s easy, especially (with) what’s happening right now in Japan, it’s not doing good.”

Nishikori, who won bronze in the men’s singles at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, added that there was still time before a decision had to be made but was wary about the potential for an outbreak in the Village, a high-rise apartment complex in downtown Tokyo.

“You can make a good bubble and maybe you can do it,” he said. “There is some risk too. What happens if there’s 100 cases in the Village? Or it can be thousands.”

The 2020 Olympics were postponed by a year due to the pandemic and organisers, from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to the Japanese government, have stood firm in saying that the global sporting showpiece would go ahead this summer under the mantra of a “safe and secure Games.”

But some medical experts said this could be difficult to guarantee.

“We still don’t have a good definition of ‘safe Olympic Games’ yet from Japan’s government or the IOC,” said Kentaro Iwata, a professor specialising in infectious diseases at Kobe University Hospital in western Japan.

“I don’t know how to protect (foreign visitors and athletes) from bringing in novel variants from all over the world. It’s an extremely difficult task to do that and kick off the Olympic Games in July,” Iwata told Reuters.

Opposition lawmakers grilled Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa on Olympics safety measures in a parliamentary committee on Monday, including the number of hospital beds secured if needed to deal with Covid-19 patients from the Olympics, but Marukawa was unable to provide details.

Several test events with foreign athletes have been successfully held, most recently on Sunday, but a visit by International Olympic Committee head Thomas Bach scheduled for May 17-18 has been postponed until June.

Though Japan has been spared the worst ravages of the pandemic, more than 10,000 people have died. Tokyo recorded 925 new cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday.

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