Their concerns center on the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which has already infected and killed thousands.
The Olympics, which every four years offers elite Caribbean stars a platform to command the global sporting spotlight, is scheduled for July 24 to Aug. 9 in Tokyo, Japan. China, where the virus was first identified weeks ago, is also located in East Asia and already more than two dozen nations, including Japan, which will host some Caribbean nations’ pre-Olympics camp, and the United States, which is home for several top Caribbean athletes, have identified multiple citizens who have contracted coronavirus.
Meanwhile, several international sporting events scheduled for East Asia this year have already been called. The World Athletics Indoor Championships, another event which attracts Caribbean athletes and which should have been held this month in Nanjing, China, was postponed until 2021. The Chinese Grand Prix auto race, originally scheduled for next month, won’t start due to the health scare. South Korea cancelled its K League professional soccer season.
Medical experts already predict the impact of coronavirus - now official called COVID-19 - will likely continue through into next year. That makes prospects for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics in Japan questionable, despite a declaration last month by an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member that the Games are “on track.”
Meanwhile, elite Caribbean athletes, most of them professionals, are continuing their Olympic preparations. Some worry that if the 2020 Games are called off, due to the spread of the virus, they will be deprived not just the opportunity to showcase athletic skills to the world, but cashing in financially. Performance in the Olympics can make or break an athlete’s career.
Yet if the Gamesare cleared to go on, Caribbean athletes will still be confronted with the decision of whether or not they should participate. The general consensus is that any final decision will be almost exclusively influenced by possible health implications.
“We will make a decision (re: Olympic participation) based upon the (athletes’) wellbeing,” Claude Bryan, a Jamaican-born, U.S.-based agent who represents several top Caribbean track and field athletes, told Caribbean Today on Feb. 11.
“Any decisions made, whether you're an athlete, spectator, coach, manager, would be primarily predicated on their wellbeing and that’s what we will do.”
Concern over athletes’ welfare appeared to have been the driving factor behind the postponement of the World Indoors.
“What we had done prior to the World Indoors, we (management) and the athletes and their coaches were in discussion and agreed that wellbeing was priority,” added Bryan, who represents several Olympic medal prospects from the Caribbean, including defending champions Shaunae Miller-Uibo of The Bahamas and Omar McLeod of Jamaica.
National athletic federations across the Caribbean, which select and send athletes to the Games, appear in lockstep.
“The JOA will continue to monitor the developments of the virus and the safety of all our stakeholders participating in the Games will be paramount to any decision taken,”a quote attributed to Ryan Foster, chief executive officer and secretary general of the Jamaica Olympic Association, noted on Feb. 24. Foster added that up to that date the IOC had “not indicated that the Games will be cancelled.”
Yet pressure is mounting. Even if Caribbean athletes do not go to the Olympics in Japan they may not escape exposure to novel coronavirus. Up to press time infections had spread rapidly. The number of people infected has surpassed 100,000, according to some estimates. More than 2,600 have died, mostly in China. It shows no immediate signs of slowing down either, and up to press time there was no vaccine to prevent it.
Medical experts in the U.S. believe coronavirus will be around into 2021 and the Centers for Disease Control is preparing for a possible outbreak in the U.S., where a significant number of the Caribbean’s elite athletes live and train.
Meanwhile, coronavirus may not be the only health worry for Caribbean athletes if they participate in the 2020 Olympics. Concerns have also surfaced about possible high level radiation in Japan, the fallout of a 2011 earthquake which triggered a tsunami that created the Fukushima Daiichinuclear disaster, roughly 130 miles northeast of Tokyo.
Global environment group Greenpeace recently issued a report that identified “hot spots” of dangerously high radiation in Fukushima, where the Olympic torch relay is scheduled to begin. Radiation levels recorded at the J-Village sports camp in the prefecture were measured at more than 1,700 times than before the earthquake, according to the report. That means anyone - athletes or fans - staying in that area during the Olympics would possibly be exposed to more radiation each day than they would normally in a year.
Up to press time there was no official announcement whether or not the torch relay would still begin from that location.
For now, however, it appears the main concern for the Olympics is novel coronavirus. Up to mid-February no final decision on the fate of the 2020 Olympic Games had been made, with no official announcement of when that would a be made either.
“I do not know of a timetable,” Bryan said.
The latest word from Olympics organizers is that no consideration for postponement or cancellation of the Games has been considered, although Toshiro Muto, chief executive officer, had earlier said he was “seriously worried” about the coronavirus’s impact on the Games.
IOC member John Coates also delivered an ironically rosy Olympics outlook on Valentine’s Day.
“There’s no case for any contingency plans of canceling the Games or moving the Games,” Coates said on Feb. 14, quoting advice from the World Health Organization.
Caribbean athletes, however, are ready, set, but may not be quite ready to go. For them, at this time, it’s wait-and-see.