Tokyo 2020: FIH CEO hopes COVID cases don't disrupt competition

The IOC and numerous international sporting bodies have formulated the Sport-Specific Regulations (SSR), which details how certain sports will go ahead if athletes were to be exposed to COVID-19.

Thierry Weil

FILE PHOTO: FIH CEO Thierry Weil addresses a press conference.   -  The Hindu

Coronavirus cases have been increasing at a rapid pace in Japan, leading to mounting concerns ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. In an attempt to allay the fears surrounding the possibility of athletes being infected with the virus during the Games, the International Olympic Committee and the numerous international sporting bodies have formulated the Sport-Specific Regulations (SSR), which details how certain sports will go ahead if athletes were to be exposed to COVID-19.

Some of the rules do appear a little confusing and aren’t ideal from a sporting point of view. In the case of hockey, if a team that reaches the final were to withdraw from the tournament due to rampant COVID-19 cases in the team, then the team it beat in the semifinal would replace it in the final. And in the rare event that both finalists are unable to play in the summit clash due to COVID-19 cases in their teams, then they will both be awarded the gold medal.

Thierry Weil, CEO of the International Hockey Federation, said the decision to play or not was solely at the discretion of the team and hoped such a situation would not arise.

“In normal times, we wouldn't even talk about this. Things are extremely complicated because of the COVID-19 situation. I hope and I am quite sure that such a case will not happen (where a team pulls out of the competition). It is to the discretion of the team to decide if they cannot play the next game based on COVID-19 cases in the team. For example, if two players are down with the virus and cannot play, then the team can decide whether it can continue and play without them. It is solely up to the team. I believe this situation will not take place during the Games,” he said in a virtual interaction on Friday.

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As per the SSR, if a team is unable to play a pool game then its opponent will be awarded a 5-0 win. In case both teams cannot play, then they will split the points and it will be considered a goalless draw. The teams can go on and play their remaining pool matches if they are in a position to.

It also says that if a team withdraws from a bronze medal match, then it would not be replaced and the other team would be given the bronze medal. Furthermore, if both teams cannot play then they will both be awarded the bronze medal.

“The discussion at the IOC was taken in conjunction with us and the other International Federations to see what would be the best way ahead if an athlete or team cannot play due to COVID-19. From a sporting point of view you can ask if it is fair, but keeping in mind the challenges posed by COVID-19, I feel it is the best decision taken. It is not ideal but in my view, it is the only solution given the situation,” Weil noted.

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He added all the decisions concerning the SSR were taken after a dialogue with the athletes as well. “We had multiple discussions with the Athletes Committee and the athletes were involved in the decisions. They felt they had to compete to be awarded a medal instead of just being given one. I am sure they won't be happy about winning a gold medal if the other team could not play. They would rather play a losing semifinalist than not play at all and win the gold,” he said.

He reiterated that the teams would have complete autonomy to decide whether or not they want to play if COVID-19 cases are detected in their camps.

“The teams can decide if they cannot play - if they have one case or six cases, they can decide whether they can play or not. It is solely up to them to decide. If multiple players test positive and only 11 players are left, then the team can still play. I feel no team will withdraw unless the entire squad is infected,” he said.

He conceded that the chance of both the finalists pulling out is unlikely, and also something that has not been discussed yet.

“It is something that no one has thought of yet. This situation could happen, but it has not been discussed yet. It will happen only if the full team is infected. It is unlikely because they would have all got tested two days before the final when they played in the semifinal. And then for all the players in both teams to test positive two days later (seems unlikely). I feel the teams will play in the final even if they have only 12 players,” he said.

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