What happens if an athlete tests Covid-19 positive at Tokyo Olympics?
Earlier this week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), in association with international sports federations, published Sport-Specific Regulations (SSR) which specifies what happens if an athlete tests positive for Covid-19 once the Games start on July 23.
The SSR, however, leaves a few questions unanswered. For example, will a hockey team be given a silver medal if it is forced to withdraw on the day of the final?
What about single-day events and multi-day events?
In general, every athlete or team that is forced to withdraw because of testing positive for the novel coronavirus will not be considered ‘disqualified,’ but instead as ‘did not start (DNS).’ Athletes will be tested daily. So for single-day events like shooting, marathons and weightlifting, all an athlete needs is a negative test from that morning.
However, in most sports where events go on for multiple days, a player or team testing positive can be replaced. In hockey, rugby 7s and handball, if a team tests positive after the first round of knockout matches, they are withdrawn and the team they beat to get to the second round takes their place. In individual events, for example in track and field, if an athlete is in the final but tests positive for Covid-19, that person is replaced by the next highest-ranked athlete from the heats. For example, if one of the eight sprinters in the 100metres final tests positive on the day of the race, the person who finishes ninth in the semifinal takes his or her place. There are some events like tennis, badminton, and boxing, where if a player tests positive, the opponent receives a ‘bye’ and there is no replacement. In case this happens in the final, the player testing positive will be given a silver medal and the opponent gets gold.
What happens to close contacts?
Wrestling has a different rule when compared to another contact sport like boxing. If an athlete tests positive before, for example, the gold medal match of a wrestling event, then that athlete is withdrawn, and the person he or she beat in the semi-final advances. The replacement player is not considered a ‘close contact’ despite grappling with the positive player just a day earlier. All the replacement player needs is to have a negative test on the day of the final.
Do different disciplines have different regulations?
In handball’s SSR, it’s mentioned that “in case a team that qualified for the final is no longer able to take part, the team that was eliminated by the Covid-19 impacted team will be promoted to the final to compete for the medal. The bronze medal match will not be played in this case.”
The hockey SSR is similar, but it does not mention if the team that was unable to compete in the final receives a medal. Even in wrestling, the SSR mentions that a player testing positive before the final will be replaced, but it does not mention if that player will receive a medal despite reaching the final.
In football, the SSR is vague as it simply states that “FIFA shall decide on the matter at its sole discretion and take whatever action is deemed necessary.”
How is it in events where Indians are medal hopes?
In track and field, where javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra is a medal hope, a positive test on the day of the final means the athlete will be replaced by the highest ranked participant from the previous round. Qualification rounds or heats and finals are held on separate days in track and field.
In sports like table tennis, archery and hockey, a team/individual testing positive is replaced by the opponent they beat in the previous round.
Weightlifting, where Mirabai Chanu is a favourite, is a single-day event, so she needs to ensure she does not test positive on the day of her event.
In wrestling, where the likes of Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat compete, an athlete receives a ‘bye’ if an opponent tests positive on the day of a bout. However, if a grappler tests positive after reaching the final, he or she is replaced by the person they beat in the semi-final.
Meanwhile in boxing, badminton and shooting there is no replacement. However, should a player test positive before a mixed shooting event, he/she can be replaced by any other shooter from the country in the same discipline (pistol/rifle/shotgun) already present at the Games.
Do athletes have to organise tests themselves?
Each contingent has an appointed ‘Covid Liaison Officer’ (CLO), whose task is to ensure samples of every individual from that country are collected and submitted on time. The CLO for the Indian team is Prem Chand Verma, a senior bureaucrat.