By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – British Cycling’s performance director Stephen Park has raised the possibility of some Olympic events taking place without spectators if the coronavirus crisis does not subside.
Park, who joined British Cycling in 2016, remains confident that the Games will go ahead, but says it could be ‘different’.
“You would struggle to find a day when the Olympics didn’t take part for any reason. But will it mean that they might be different? Possibly,” he told reporters.
“Look, at the World Cup (Finals) skiing in two weeks time in Cortina, they are doing it on a closed circuit with no fans. And that’s going to an area that doesn’t currently have infections.
“So might there be some of those things that happen (at the Olympics)? Possibly.”
Sporting events have been hit hard across the globe by coronavirus fears, especially in Asia with this month’s Thai Moto GP race the latest to be canceled.
The Tokyo Marathon held at the weekend had a much-reduced field and few fans showed up to watch.
Cycling was also effected last week when the UAE Tour was canceled with two stages remaining after two Italian team members were suspected of having tested positive for coronavirus.
Denmark’s Michael Morkov was forced to self-isolate when he arrived at the Berlin world track championships last week, having taken part in the UAE race. Morkov was eventually cleared to race, winning a gold medal in the madison.
Park said British Cycling were well-equipped to avoid any possible coronavirus infections with the national velodrome’s changing rooms in Manchester getting a deep clean last week.
“We are preparing as if (the Olympics) are going to happen,” he said. “That’s all we can do. No point wasting our energy worrying about it, but equally we will take the right advice from the NHS and WHO in terms of making sure we can do everything we can to look after out athletes.
“We are making sure that we don’t let it become a distraction or overtake the preparation. As soon as you start doing that, start thinking ‘it might not happen’ what are you preparing for? We are full steam ahead and expecting to be there in July, in Tokyo, having fun.”
Morkov, who spent 34 hours in his hotel room before being given the all-clear, said the “whole world was waiting” to see what happens. “Big things could be canceled, but it’s out of everybody’s hands,” the 34-year-old said.
Norwegian rider Anita Stenberg, winner of the bronze medal in the points race in Berlin, said, given the choice, she would go to Tokyo irrespective of the coronavirus outbreak.
“So many riders have been fighting to qualify for years. If it would be canceled it would be a shame. If they say it’s my responsibility I would go anyway. I would take the risk.”
Malaysia’s Azizulhasni Awang, who won bronze in the men’s sprint and keirin, said he was concerned.
“It’s spreading into more and more countries and getting worse in Japan and Korea,” he said. “I believe the government of Japan will do something and the Games will have no problem.
“I hope there’s a Plan B, but I’m not sure.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)