New Zealand Olympic Committee monitoring coronavirus outbreak for changes

19:42 pm on 26 February 2020

The novel coronavirus outbreak is threatening to ruin the Olympics in Japan and has already disrupted Kiwi athletes' preparations for the games.

A woman wearing a mask walks near the Olympics' mark in Odaiba, Tokyo on February 22, 2020, amid the outbreak of a new coronavirus in Japan. Photo: Kunihiko Miura / The Yomiuri Shimbun / AFP

Senior International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound said today that a decision would have to be made around late May about whether the virus (officially known as Covid-19) was sufficiently under control for the event to go ahead, or if it would have to be cancelled.

The World Athletics Indoor Championships due to be held in March were cancelled due to the outbreak.

This was a major part of the build-up to the Olympics for athletes, including shot-putters Dame Valerie Adams and Madison-Lee Wesche and middle distance runner Nick Willis.

New Zealand Olympic Committee spokesperson Ashley Abbott said they were closely monitoring the situation and trying to help athletes whose preparations had been impacted.

Ashley Abbott of the New Zealand Olympic Committee. Photo: William Booth / Photosport

"Things are moving really fast and our job at the moment is working with athletes on the crucial qualification period that's taking place now," Abbott said.

"We're seeing athletes having to have their competitions moved or postponed because of the virus and so that's an immediate area of focus for us."

However, Abbott said as of now, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were still going ahead and athletes were training accordingly.

"We are working towards the games taking place and what we need to do is understand the environment our athletes will be facing come games time.

"We're taking advice and working closely with the New Zealand government here just to make sure that our plans and processes are such that our athletes will be safe."

A nine-strong New Zealand boxing team had also been due to take part in a qualifying event in China, but that was rescheduled to be held in Jordan.

David Nyika with New Zealand coaches Thomas Rangiawha and Billy Meehan. Photo: Boxing NZ

The team are currently in Italy, where there have been been 11 Covid-19 deaths, and team coach Billy Meehan fears that Jordan may close its borders to people travelling from Italy.

"We've just got to be a bit mindful that if Jordan starts closing their borders to anybody out of Italy we might be in trouble," he said.

"We're a bit stuck between a rock and a hard place. I mean, the last thing we want to do is pack up another camp and disappear again. We really need to try and follow this one through - get to Jordan and get the job done."

Table tennis, cycling and para swimming events have also been cancelled.

Speaking to the Associated Press earlier today, senior International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound said a decision on whether or not to cancel the Tokyo games will need to be made in the next three months or so.

"At a certain point, you have to make a call. I'd say that over the next two or three months it's going to be like focusing a ground glass lens - the focus will get sharper and sharper as you get to the point of go or no-go."

If the event doesn't go ahead, Pound said it would likely be cancelled rather than postponed or moved to another city.

Meanwhile, Australia's Olympic officials will meet Thursday to advise their athletes about the coronavirus and adjust their schedules to keep them out of harm's way.

But it was the Chinese Olympic team who had been by far the hardest hit.

Many athletes have been confined to closed training bases, and some of those who had been competing abroad decided not to go home to avoid being caught up in the travel restrictions imposed on China.

A cancelled Olympics would be the first in modern history, outside of wartime.