Japan travel bans won’t be a problem for athletes, says IOA

  • The travel ban came into effect from Friday, with the country's chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato saying they will “tighten and ease entry restrictions depending on the situation”.
File image of Narinder Batra.(File)
File image of Narinder Batra.(File)
Published on May 15, 2021 07:07 AM IST
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ByRutvick Mehta

Even as Japan has enforced a strict ban on travel from India, while also extending a state of emergency to more cities within the country with just over two months to go for the Tokyo Olympics, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president Narinder Batra said on Friday that no Indian athlete, support staff or official heading to Tokyo would be impacted.

The Japan government closed its borders to those travelling from India, Nepal or Pakistan to prevent the new variant of the virus from inflicting further damage in a country battling a fresh surge of Covid-19 cases. The travel ban came into effect from Friday, with the country's chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato saying they will “tighten and ease entry restrictions depending on the situation”.

But Batra said even if the ban on travel from India was extended to June or July, the Tokyo-bound Indian contingent would be able to travel for the Games set to open on July 23.

“This ban is for general public coming from India, Pakistan or Nepal. For athletes participating in the Olympics, there are sufficient guarantees taken by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) from the host nation that they cannot bar any country from entering. There cannot be separate country-specific rules,” said Batra.

“As such, all accredited athletes, coaches and officials from India will not face any trouble in entering Japan, be rest assured. We will only have to follow the standard protocols that have been put in place, like taking the mandatory RT-PCR tests before flying,” he said.

Asked if the IOA would look at the option of flying the contingent to Tokyo from another country should the travel ban on India continue till July, Batra said: “That is only if a situation arises where they (the Japan government) say you cannot travel from India. That won’t be the case. However, every country has a back-up plan and we will have one too. In any case, some of our athletes are already training abroad, so they will fly directly to Tokyo.”

The development comes amid fresh concerns about the postponed Tokyo Olympics taking place in Japan, which has seen a spike in Covid-19 cases. According to the World Health Organization’s website, Japan reported 6,927 cases on May 13, a jump from around 2,500 exactly a month ago.

On Friday, the Japanese government extended its state of emergency—already in place in major cities like Tokyo, Osaka and four other prefectures—to three more prefectures of Hokkaido, Hiroshima and Okayama till May 31. Hokkaido, one of the northernmost islands in the country, is set to host the Olympic marathon. According to Reuters, the latest emergency measures will put 19 of the country’s 47 prefectures under strict restrictions.

In Japan, voices against staging the world's largest sporting spectacle while battling the pandemic continued to mount. An online petition, featuring more than 3,50,000 signatures, called for the Games to be shelved. The campaign, termed “Stop Tokyo Olympics” and drafted by Japan's renowned lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya, was submitted to the local organisers and the IOC on Friday.

"We are not in that situation and therefore the Games should be cancelled," Utsunomiya told a news conference. "Precious medical resources would need to be diverted to the Olympics if it's held."

The IOC and the local organising committee, however, have stood firm on their intention of going ahead with the Games as a “beacon of hope”, with Tokyo also holding some test events across various disciplines over the last month, albeit in front of empty stands.

The IOA, however, does not want Indian athletes to be under any confusion with regards to the staging of the Games. “I would not like to comment on any country-specific issues; those are their personal and political issues. But as far as I know, the Olympics are happening. I would like to put that straight to our athletes,” said Batra.

With Japan joining a growing list of foreign countries banning travel from India, which is battling a massive second wave, many athletes are finding it increasingly difficult to head abroad for their final stretch of preparations. Some athletes who have already flown out—like the Indian shooting contingent that shifted base to Croatia earlier this week—or are set to in the coming days and weeks, are mandated to undergo country-specific quarantine rules.

“Look, the facilities in India are good enough to train,” said Batra. “So saying that I couldn’t train properly because I couldn’t go abroad would be unfair to the facilities provided in our country. We have provided all possible support to our athletes—be it assisting in building a shooting range inside personal houses to sending the archers to Pune to train. The hockey teams too have been training in Bengaluru. Yes, travelling abroad might be an issue right now, but the rules apply to many other countries and not just India.”

The IOA president added that around 200 Tokyo-bound Indian athletes, including the paralympians, and 90-odd officials have so far received their first vaccination dose. “About 18 athletes have got their second jabs as well,” he said.

(With agency inputs)

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