AT A GLANCE / JUNE 2020

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

With swimming pools still shut, top swimmer says he may have to consider retirement

In what is a clear sign of the quandary competition swimmers are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent lockdown, Virdhawal Khade, among top swimmers in India has said that he may have to consider retirement.

Khade is one of six swimmers from the country, who secured the lower (B) Olympic qualification mark, for the now postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He achieved it ahead of the lockdown. In India, lockdown started on March 24. Among other things, it resulted in sports facilities – including swimming pools – being shut.  Close to three months later, in recent relaxation to lockdown rules, the freedom to exercise, cycle and be out jogging – have all been restored and assigned specific hours. However swimming pools and gyms are still shut.

Activities like cycling and running have also adapted in part to using virtual reality as alternative to the absence of races. Swimming has no such option. In the early half of the lockdown, long distance swimmers this blog spoke to were all into strength training at home, which they admitted is a poor alternative to being in water. It was the best one could do under the circumstances.

Khade is the current national record holder in the 50m, 100m and 200m freestyle and 50m butterfly events. He picked up a bronze medal in the 50m butterfly event at the 2010 Asian Games.

According to a Reuters report on Khade’s predicament, dated June 15, 2020 (since published in the general news media), secretary-general of the Swimming Federation of India (SFI), Monal Chokshi, said that of the six swimmers who made the earlier mentioned Olympic qualifying mark, only Sajan Prakash, who is training in Thailand, has managed to get back to the pool.

The SFI has approached the sports ministry for a solution, the report said.

Ironman 70.3 Goa postponed

Ironman 70.3 Goa scheduled to be held on November 8, 2020 has been postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“ We are working diligently to secure a new race date for the second half of 2021,” the organizer of the event said on the event’s Instagram page.

“ In what has been a continually evolving and challenging time globally, we recognize that this may come as a disappointment but look forward to providing athletes with an exceptional race experience in the future,” the statement said.

Ironman 70.3 Goa made its debut in 2019. The triathlon saw huge participation from Indian amateur triathletes.

2020 TCS New York City Marathon cancelled

The 2020 TCS New York City Marathon, set to take place on November 1, has been cancelled. New York Road Runners (NYRR), the event organizer, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of the City of New York, have made the decision to cancel the world’s largest marathon due to coronavirus-related health and safety concerns for runners, spectators, volunteers, staff, and the many partners and communities that support the event, a press statement dated June 24, available on the website of New York Road Runners said.

“ While the marathon is an iconic and beloved event in our city, I applaud New York Road Runners for putting the health and safety of both spectators and runners first,” Mayor Bill de Blasio was quoted as saying. “ We look forward to hosting the 50th running of the marathon in November of 2021.”

“ Canceling this year’s TCS New York City Marathon is incredibly disappointing for everyone involved, but it was clearly the course we needed to follow from a health and safety perspective,” said Michael Capiraso, president and CEO of New York Road Runners.  “ Marathon Day and the many related events and activities during race week are part of the heart and soul of New York City and the global running community, and we look forward to coming together next year.”

According to the statement, NYRR will be connecting directly with runners registered for the 2020 TCS New York City Marathon by July 15 with more information regarding the cancellation resolution details, including the option to receive a full refund of their entry fee or a guaranteed complimentary entry in 2021, 2022, or 2023. Runners who gained entry through a charity or tour operator should reach out beginning July 1 to that organization for the options available to them.

This year’s marathon was set to be the 50th running of the event, which began in 1970 and has grown to become the world’s largest marathon with 53,640 finishers in 2019.

“ Runners registered for the 2020 TCS New York City Marathon and others from around the world will be invited to participate in the third annual TCS New York City Marathon – Virtual 26.2M taking place from October 17 through November 1. Further details on the virtual marathon will be shared in July. In addition to the 2020 TCS New York City Marathon, the 2020 Abbott Dash to the Finish Line 5K on October 31 has also been canceled,’’ the statement said, adding, “ The 50th running of the TCS New York City Marathon will take place on November 7, 2021.’’

2020 Berlin Marathon cancelled

The 2020 Berlin Marathon has been cancelled.

The event was earlier suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic; city authorities decided that all events with more than 5000 persons would be prohibited till October 24, 2020. The Berlin Marathon was originally slated to take place in September.

On June 24, the race organizers announced its cancellation.

“ As hard as we have tried, it is currently not possible to organize the BMW BERLIN-MARATHON with its usual Berlin charm. Fun, joy, health and success are attributes that characterize the BMW BERLIN-MARATHON, but we are not able to guarantee all of this at the moment. Your health, as well as all of our health, is our first priority. Therefore, taking into account the Containment Measures Ordinance due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its latest update on June 17, 2020, the BMW BERLIN-MARATHON 2020 will not be able to take place on September 26-27, 2020. Furthermore, it will also not be possible – after extensive examination and various discussions, also with the authorities – to hold the event at a later date this year,’’ an official statement on the race website said.

Among countries in Europe affected by COVID-19, Germany was perceived as the most efficient in dealing with the disease. It managed the first wave well and the national lockdown was subsequently relaxed. However in recent weeks the country has been tackling new clusters of infection.

Badwater 135 cancelled

The 2020 Badwater 135 has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ultra-running event, promoted as the world’s toughest foot race, covers a distance of 135 miles (217.26 kilometers) from Death Valley to Whitney Portal, the trailhead to Mount Whitney, in California, USA.

The 43rd edition of the foot race was to take place over July 6-8, 2020.

Four ultra-runners from India – Ashish Kasodekar, Mandeep Doon, Munish Dev and Praveen Sharma – had been invited to participate in the race. When contacted, Ashish said that the runners from India withdrew in May given the cancellation of flights between India and the US due to COVID-19. The formal cancellation of the event was communicated to participants through email, media reports on the subject said.

During the 2019 edition of Badwater 135, Japan’s Yoshihiko Ishikawa had set a new course record of 21 hours, 33 minutes and one second.

With real race cancelled, UTMB offers virtual alternatives

The organizers of UTMB Mont Blanc plan to launch UTMB for the Planet, a digital sporting event, which will include four virtual races.

The four virtual races will be based on the main distances of the event, the race organizers have informed in a communication to the running community posted on the race’s website. The said four virtual races will be UTMB Virtual 50, UTMB Virtual 100, UTMB Virtual 170 and UTMB Virtual 240.

The 2020 edition of UTMB Mont Blanc was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Entry into UTMB for the Planet virtual races is free, the statement said, adding “ all participants are invited to donate the amount of their choice when they register to support WWF France projects. ‘’ The virtual races will be officially launched on July 20 and will be accessible to runners from around the world. The virtual races will be live from July 20 to August 30 and will be hosted on a new UTMB for the Planet digital platform.

According to the statement, to encourage the greatest number of runners to take part, participants will be able to complete their chosen distance over several runs or in one go. The classification will also take into account the kilometre-effort (for any gain of 100m in elevation, one kilometre is added to the distance of the route) for people who cannot integrate elevation gain in their run. “ In addition to the virtual races, original and exclusive challenges will be organised with our partners and will be available on the digital platform. These challenges will offer different sporting formats such as night races, team events or challenges based on elevation,’’ it said.

193 athletes to benefit from welfare fund for pandemic hit times

World Athletics and the International Athletics Foundation (IAF) have announced that 193 athletes from 58 member federations will be offered one-time grants of US$3000 through an Athlete Welfare Fund announced in April to help support professional athletes experiencing financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“ The IAF expects to begin making payments to athletes as early as the end of this week,’’ a press release dated June 21, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics, said.

According to it, the IAF received 261 eligible applications by the 31 May deadline. These applications were evaluated by the IAF to ensure they met the eligibility criteria, under the oversight of an expert working group, chaired by World Athletics President Sebastian Coe. To be eligible athletes had to be qualified for selection for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (by entry standard), had to be able to demonstrate a justifiable welfare need through significant loss of income in 2020 compared to 2019, and must never have had an anti-doping violation.

Athletes ranked in the top six on the World Rankings, those who finished in the top six in any Gold Label Road race in 2019, and those who earned more than US$6000 in prize money from the 2019 Diamond League were not eligible to apply in order to help focus support to those most in need.

Initially totaling US$500,000 when its creation was announced on 28 April, generous contributions have since made US$600,000 ultimately available to athletes in need, the statement added.

2020 London Marathon: hopeful still

The recent cancellation of the Great North Run in the UK, needn’t imply that the same fate awaits the 2020 edition of the London Marathon, the organizers of the latter event have said.

In an open letter dated June 19, 2020, available on the website of the London Marathon, Event Director, Hugh Brasher said, “ I am sure earlier this week you will have seen the news that the Great North Run was sadly, but understandably, cancelled. There has been much speculation that this means the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon will also be cancelled. However, it doesn’t.

“ All road races have unique challenges. These might be transporting people to the start; transporting them from the finish; the density of runners on the course; the density and movement of spectators; providing runners with appropriate medical care and facilities such as loos and drinks; dealing with the logistics of road closures and reopenings – the challenges are always different for every race. The team at London Marathon Events has been looking at the logistics of the Virgin Money London Marathon and coming up with innovative ways to socially distance the event. We have also been working with other mass participation event organisers in the UK, including the Great Run Company and Human Race, to make recommendations to the UK Government on how mass participation events can return,’’ he said.

Brasher pointed out that there are currently just over 15 weeks before the planned date of the 40th London Marathon on October 4, 2020. On the usual timescale for the event, it would be the equivalent of the first week of January. “ That means there is still plenty of time to train and there is neither a need, nor should there be a desire, to be at your peak fitness yet. We still don’t know whether we will be able run together, walk together and be together on that journey of 26.2 miles on 4 October. Almost every day we hear hopeful news from other countries and we hear tales of despair. However, what we do know is that we have hope, desire and ingenuity. Hope that the world will have found a way through Covid-19 by October,’’ he said.

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

World Athletics publishes safety guidelines for in-stadium outdoor competitions

World Athletics has published a set of health and safety guidelines to assist competition organisers to minimise the risk of spreading coronavirus when staging in-stadium outdoor events during the current pandemic, a press statement dated June 11, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics said.

The guidelines, drafted by World Athletics’ Health and Science Department, also address the post-peak period, as described by the World Health Organization (WHO) and are based on scientific and medical knowledge of the virus responsible for COVID-19. The document offers guidance for professional athletes, support staff, technical officials, workforce, volunteers, medical staff and media. Although it doesn’t include guidelines regarding spectators, the WHO has produced a document and risk-assessment tools for mass gatherings.

“ Competition organisers are advised to undertake a four-point risk assessment for all accredited attendants. If an individual scores two or higher, it is recommended that they should undergo a medical clearance protocol before the event,’’ the statement said.

Other recommendations include:

Pre-event

  • Welcome desks organised by local organising committees (LOC) at airports or railway stations should provide each arrival with a welcome bag that includes single-use masks (three per day, minimum), bottles of hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and a leaflet to explain the health and safety protocols for that particular event.
  • When being transported from an airport or railway station to competition hotels, all passengers and drivers should wear a mask and be seated at an appropriate distance away from one another. One-way flows should also be implemented to avoid mixing of people.
  • LOCs are also strongly recommended to organise and use a medical encounter registry, recorded on an electronic system, to facilitate identification and further contact of potentially infected individuals.

At the stadium

  • Spectators and accredited personnel should have two completely separate entrances and the flows should not cross. Accredited personnel should only be granted access to the competition venue if wearing a face mask and with their personal hand sanitizer.
  • Face masks should be worn by everyone in the stadium, with the exception of athletes when warming up or competing in their event.
  • Warm-up zones should be large open-air areas within a short walking distance of the competition stadium, and access to it should be strictly controlled. Athletes should be invited to enter the warm-up area following a specific timetable. All accredited personnel should wear a mask and wash their hands before entering warm-up zones or dedicated toilets.
  • Masks should also be worn in call rooms, which should be arranged in an outdoor location. It is also mandatory to disinfect chairs between each use.

In competition

  • The number of people on the field of play should be kept to a minimum, and officials who will be coming into close contact with athletes should wear protective glasses or a plastic face shield, in addition to their mask.
  • Once athletes have crossed the finish line, they should try to keep their distance from the public and officials, where possible, until they collect their belongings from the call room.

Specific guidelines for individual disciplines:

  • Starting blocks should be cleaned between each race.
  • Chlorine should be added to the water jump for the steeplechase.
  • Relay batons should be cleaned between each use, and relay teams should be discouraged from gathering or hugging after a race.
  • The use of hand sanitizer should be recommended before each attempt in vertical jumps.
  • Officials should clean the landing mat between each jump, using a mop and virucidal solution or use a thin layer of recyclable plastic or tissue that can be placed on the jumping mat.
  • Sand in jumping pits should be mixed with a solution that contains biodegradable and non-skin-aggressive virucide agent.
  • Officials who handle throwing implements should clean their hands or use disposable gloves after each handling.
  • In combined events, the room used by athletes to recover between disciplines should be open-air, if possible. Coaches should be encouraged to interact with their athletes using electronic devices.

After competition

  • Media mixed zones should also be outside, if possible, and the number of people in the area should be kept to a minimum. A plexiglass screen should be placed between the athletes and the media, and cleaned after each interview, and separate interview boxes should be used if there are multiple positions. Without screens, a safety dead zone of three metres should be adopted when journalists interview athletes, and masks should be used by both parties.
  • To keep the number of people on the field of play to a minimum, live award ceremonies are not recommended, but alternative digital solutions are encouraged.
  • Once the competition has concluded, a thorough disinfection procedure should be undertaken.

The guidelines in full are available for downloading on the World Athletics website. “ The document is dynamic and will be updated as and when more evidence and scientific-based knowledge becomes available,’’ the statement said.

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Over 43,000 participate in virtual Comrades Marathon

Over 43,000 runners from 103 countries participated in the first virtual Comrades Marathon – Race the Comrades Legends – on Sunday, June 14, 2020.

From India, 316 runners registered for the virtual run. Compared to registrations for the virtual event, paticipation for the last edition of the race in its physical form – 2019 Comrades Marathon – was capped at 25,000 (source: Wikipedia).

The 2020 edition of Comrades Marathon, held annually in South Africa, was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The virtual race, held in its place, offered various distance options – five kilometers, 10 km, 21.1 km, 45 km and 90 km. At the end of the run, participating runners had to upload their race data.

News reports said Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) may consider organizing more virtual races as the response to its first event has been overwhelming.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai.)

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