The Daily Telegraph is reporting that Swimming Australia has unveiled an alternative selection process if the coronavirus pandemic scuttles its Olympic Trials meet scheduled for June 12-17 in Adelaide.
The selection meet for Tokyo is planned for six weeks before the start of the Olympic Games, which is two months later than past selections meets. (In 2016, for example, the Australian Trials for Rio de Janeiro were held from April 7-14, 2016. The selection meet for London took place in March 2012.) Given that we are still in the midst of a global pandemic, Swimming Australia felt they had little room for error in case of illnesses or travel bans -it would be too late to reschedule the meet- so they came up with a Plan B to assure their athletes would still be considered for selection.
Swimming Australia’s “Plan A” requires swimmers to achieve a top-8 time in the world at Trials, a brutal selection criterion that nearly kept Mack Horton out of the 400 free at 2019 World Championships.
Should Australian Trials be canceled, Plan B would kick in. Swimmers would be allowed to enter times from the Australian Championships at the Gold Coast (April 14-18) and the Sydney Open (May 13-16) for consideration. There would also be an allowance made for “extenuating circumstances.”
Meanwhile, no special precautions are being taken to ensure the safety of the athletes at Australian Trials. There are expected to be hundreds of swimmers at the meet and no one will be required to be tested for COVID before arriving. Swimming Australia Chief Strategist Alex Baumann said, “That’s the medical advice we’ve been given. We have a pretty safe COVID environment at this point in time. We’re not in the same situation as the US and Canada and we hope that continues so we don’t feel like we have to change the qualifying standards or adjust the number of athletes.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic in February 2020, Australia has registered 29,002 cases of COVID. With approximately 25.5 million people living in Australia, that is a mere 0.1% – or one-tenth of a percent – of the population. The country has experienced 909 deaths as of March 4, 2021.
By comparison, the United States has logged some 28.8 million cases (8.7% of the population) and 519 thousand deaths. In Canada, those numbers are 878 thousand cases (2.3% of the population) and 22,151 deaths.
That said, Australia is lagging other countries in vaccine rollouts. There are five phases in the Australian rollout plan, with the first group of Australians expected to start receiving the COVID-19 vaccine in February 2021. Moreover, on March 2, the government extended its international travel ban for three more months, through June 17, 2021. There are some 39,000 Australian citizens who are currently stuck abroad, unable to return home due to the regulations.