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April 30, 2021 — A humanitarian catastrophe could very well become one of Olympic proportions

In the last two weeks, four million people in India have tested positive for COVID-19. The rate of infections has started to reach some 400,000 per day in one of the densest-populated nations on earth.

I have always feared this might happen. Having a communicable and deadly disease in a place where millions of people are almost literally living on top of each other in cities like Delhi and Mumbai is like throwing a lit match in a massive forest with dry underbrush in the middle of a drought.

India is also one of the world’s best up-and-coming economies, but that prosperity has been lost on the greater population of the country. Some 600 million people — twice the population of the U.S. — live without running water. The sanitation challenges, in the face of COVID-19, are enormous.

And so are the challenges of trying to “flatten the curve,” either by quarantining or by a general lockdown. As of yesterday, there was no indication that the government would be instituting a sweeping lockdown. Instead, it has been left to local governments: yesterday, Manipur a state in the extreme east of India, called for a seven-day lockdown.

With a mere 84 days until the start of the Olympics, India is in very much a COVID crisis. Some 91 athletes are scheduled to be part of the Games; a plurality (32) are on the two field hockey teams that have qualified through the FIH-mandated processes.

Now, a couple of days ago, the International Olympic Committee published a virtual guide for athletes as to how to maintain social distancing and tips on not getting COVID-19. The so-called “playbook” restricts Olympians to taking official transportation, eating only where COVID-19 countermeasures in place, and staying away from most of the general public.

In other words, you’re not going to have a situation where you might have a Charles Barkley visiting the general public like he did during Barcelona 1992.

There’s also going to be quite a lot of testing. Athletes must have two test before coming to Tokyo, then everyone gets tested once a day for three days upon arrival. Athletes are scheduled to be tested daily, while coaches and support staff will be tested regularly.

The thing is, nothing in the guide mentions what happens if athletes are unable to travel to the Games because of either a government-imposed lockdown or if there is a widespread COVID-19 outbreak amongst members of a team.

It’s the latter that could be a matter of wounded pride if India is unable to participate in the Olympics because of the outbreak.

And you can say the same thing about the United States, which has seen more than a half-million deaths. While more than half the U.S. population has already received some sort of vaccine therapy, it is hard to declare an immediate victory over the virus; nearly a thousand people are dying every day in America from it.

Too, if the Indian women can’t go, it would be a supreme irony because the United States was the team that the Eves vanquished back in 2019 to get the golden ticket to Japan. The U.S., the 15th-ranked team in the world, would not be next in line as first alternate; I believe that the alternates are selected by world ranking. As of today, Korea is ranked 11th, the highest-ranked women’s side not already qualified for the Olympics.

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