Athletes from certain Western African nations that have been struck by the recent outbreak of the Ebola virus have been barred from competing in some contact sports, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced this week.
In working with the Nanjing, China organizers of the second Youth Olympic Games that begin on Friday and the World Health Organization (WHO), the IOC has come to the decision that in certain sports with a higher likelihood of transmission, athletes from those nations have been prevented from competing. That is despite, in their words, having “been reassured by the health authorities that there have been no suspected cases and that the risk of infection is extremely unlikely.
The decision affects three athletes specifically who were not named by the IOC. The decision was made that athletes would be barred from competing in combat sports (2 athletes) and any competition in the pool (1 athlete), including swimming.
The IOC has made the gestures of allowing the flags of those countries to still be displayed at the venues and marched in at the opening ceremonies if those countries no longer had representatives. The IOC also committed to bring those athletes for other athletic competition in Nanjing in the future.
The specific sports targeted are because of the higher-than-normal chance of transmission. According to the WHO, Ebola spreads through direct contact through broken skin or mucous membranes with blood, secretions, organs, or other bodily fluids being the carriers.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, however, says that one “cannot contract” Ebola in a swimming pool.
While no athletes have been specifically named, there is just one swimmer from the countries in the heart of the Western African outbreak, and that is a boys’ 50 freestyler from Guinea. He was seeded at a 25.20 in that event.
The full statement from the IOC is below:
Our thoughts are firstly with those who have been touched by the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa and the suffering of those affected and their families.
With regard to ensuring the safety of all those participating in the Youth Olympic Games and the people of the city of Nanjing we have been working closely with the Chinese health authorities and under the guidance of the World Health Organization (WHO). We have been reassured by the health authorities that there have been no suspected cases and that the risk of infection is extremely unlikely.
Together we have developed a policy which balances the health needs of all, with respect for the rights of the young athletes from the region:
- The organizing committee has made it clear that all delegations are welcome to the Games and each country is free to take their own decision on attendance.
- Those from the region will be subject to regular temperature and physical assessment throughout the period.
- Based on health authority guidelines it has been decided that athletes from affected areas will not compete in combat sports. (2 athletes)
- Additionally, based on the inability to completely exclude the risk of potential infection it was also decided that no athletes from the region would compete in the pool.(1 athlete)
- In accordance with WHO guidelines the Chinese authorities are fully prepared should any outbreak occur.
We regret that due to this issue some young athletes may have suffered twice, both from the anguish caused by the outbreak in their home countries and by not being able to compete in the Youth Olympic Games.
The IOC and Organizing Committee will therefore offer to each of the National Olympic Committees affected, if they wish, that their national flag will be brought into the stadium at the opening ceremony and will be hoisted at the venues.
The athletes who have not been able to participate will also receive in the near future an invitation from the IOC and the organizing committee to come to Nanjing to take part in a sporting competition and to experience the welcoming atmosphere and spirit of the city and Jiangsu province.