Tokyo 2020: First stress test of 'COVID Games' may come when Japan plays South Africa

South Africa's squad was severely depleted by COVID-19 infections and withdrawals before they left for the Games and was then hit with the news that two players and a video analyst had tested positive on arrival in Tokyo.

The Japan National Stadium will play host to the football matches at the Tokyo Olympics.   -  REUTERS

The first major test of how an Olympics can be held in the midst of a pandemic may well come this week in the men's football tournament when Japan faces a South Africa side that could struggle to field 11 players due to the novel coronavirus.

South Africa's squad was severely depleted by COVID-19 infections and withdrawals before they left for the Games and was then hit with the news that two players and a video analyst had tested positive on arrival in Tokyo.

Organisers said late on Monday that 21 members of the delegation were close contacts, leaving South Africa walking a tightrope ahead of Thursday's match against the hosts.

The Olympic playbook on coronavirus prevention measures mandates that to compete a close contact must return daily negative PCR tests, including one within six hours of competition.

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They must also undergo a health check by an expert and receive permission from their international sporting federation.

FIFA regulations stipulate a team must have 13 available players for a match to go ahead and South Africa coach David Notoane said the daily testing means he has no idea who will be able to take the field to face the Japanese.

"You are not even sure who will be eligible for your (starting) 11 because of the situation we are in, testing every day," he told reporters about the team, who returned to training on Monday after a week off the pitch.

"Their (Japan's) physical readiness compared to us will be a key issue. It will make a huge difference. We basically lost seven days and that is hard to recover from."

Michiko Dohi, COVID-19 chief liaison officer with the Japan Olympic Committee, said that with the proper, strict steps being taken, the match could be held safely.

Dohi said most of the positive cases had been contracted before the delegations entered Japan.

"My understanding is that they weren't (caught) in the Olympic Village," she told a news conference on Tuesday

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