FILE - South Africa’s Ashleigh Moolman Pasio competes at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. Photo: Matthew Childs/Reuters
FILE - South Africa’s Ashleigh Moolman Pasio competes at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. Photo: Matthew Childs/Reuters

SA athletes keen to take part in Olympics despite Covid

By Stuart Hess Time of article published May 27, 2021

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JOHANNESBURG — Veteran cyclist, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, said that while she is respectful of the Japanese public’s opposition to this year’s Olympic Games, she is desperate to participate in the event later this year.

Moolman-Pasio will be heading to her third Olympics and was named as part of a provisional list of 64 athletes on Thursday by the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee.

Not included were South Africa’s two track superstars, Caster Semenya and Wayde van Niekerk, who have yet to qualify for their respective events. Those two, will have until July 5, when Sascoc has to submit its final list of athletes to the International Olympic Committee, to complete the necessary qualifying times; in Van Niekerk’s case for the 400m and Semenya’s the 5000m.

Meanwhile the Japanese public remain strongly opposed to the Games taking place in July and August as the country endures its fourth wave of the Covid-19 virus. On Thursday the head of the Japan Doctors Union said the Games, which would see around 10000 people descend on the country, could lead to a new strain.

However the IOC has remained firm that the Games will go ahead, with the Japanese government for now, defying the growing opposition from the public, to give its backing to the Games being staged.

“Of course I want to race in Tokyo, it’s something I’ve been working towards,” said 35 year old Moolman-Pasio. “This will possibly be my last Olympic Games so I want to go there and make my country proud. We have to be responsible and we must respect the pandemic and what the world is going through at the moment, but around the world many sporting disciplines have demonstrated that sport can continue in a safe and respectful way, alongside the Covid pandemic.”

Moolman-Pasio cited her own sport, cycling, as one which had adjusted to the demands of the pandemic and the need for bio-secure environments, in order to continue with competitions. “Professional cycling is continuing; we’ve had to adjust to the new protocols and we are all respectful of these protocols. I do believe that (the Olympics) can go ahead, even with the Covid pandemic and I am very hopeful that it will. I want to go, of course, but I very much understand if something had to change because of the pandemic.”

Sascoc has kept its athletes updated regularly about the Games and preparations in Tokyo.

“The IOC have said the games are going ahead. And if they must apply stringent Covid practices and protocols they would rather do that, than call off the Games,” said Sascoc’s president, Barry Hendricks.

“As Sascoc we are willing to work within those stringent protocols. For me, if I go, it's about staying in the hotel, moving to the event, and then back to the hotel - no sight-seeing, no restaurants, no inter-mingling with athletes. It’s only about supporting the athletes and going to attend whatever meetings take place over there.”

“The protocols are very stringent, and could become even more so. The safety of the Japanese public is foremost in our minds and the IOC is working daily, with the government and the city of Tokyo to ensure all those protocols will be in place and that we as athletes and officials adhere to them.”

Meanwhile, South Africa’s athletes have been administered the single-shot Johnson&Johnson jab, although Hendricks was keen to point out, no one was forced to take the vaccine.

“The policy is very simple; the athletes are offered the vaccine, and if they take up the offer they are vaccinated,” said Hendricks. “They are in no way forced to take the vaccine, there is no requirement from the IOC or Japanese government in that regard. But, some athletes, because of the adverse effects of some of the vaccines have expressed concern. The J&J shot can, in the first week or two, cause you to feel lethargic, nothing serious has emanated, but I understand if that is the case.”

“But we need them to be vaccinated, well before going to Japan. It takes about 28 days for the vaccine to reach its full potential of protecting the body, which is also our advice to the athletes,” Hendricks added.

The next batch of athletes, who’ve been selected for the Olympics, will be announced in two weeks time.

Sascoc’s acting CEO, Ravi Govender, said the organisation had budgeted for a team - including athletes and officials - of over 300 to go to Tokyo for the Games. “With Covid there might be extra officials, in terms of medical staff, to assist our athletes,” Govender added.

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