Wed | Feb 19, 2020

Tuff talk! - Health Minister Tufton could bar Jamaican athletes from attending World Indoors in China

Published:Tuesday | January 28, 2020 | 12:18 AMAkino Ming/Staff Reporter
USA’s Aldrich Bailey falls after finishing second in his 400m semi-final, while fourth-place finisher, Jamaica’s Javon Francis reacts at the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham, England, on March 2, 2018.
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Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton told The Gleaner that he is prepared to advise Jamaican athletes against competing at the upcoming World Athletics Indoor Championships, scheduled for Nanjing, China, if the coronavirus continues to spread in the East Asian country.

The World Athletics Indoor Championships is set for March 13-15 and will take place approximately 450km from the city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the deadly outbreak, which has so far taken a reported 80 lives, with another 2,800 confirmed cases in China alone.

Tufton admitted that the Jamaican Government is concerned by the developments, noting that he is prepared to instruct Jamaican athletes to avoid the region and skip the championship if the situation does not improve.

“We are guided by the World Health Organization (WHO), but from our perspective, we are concerned about the virus is spreading and that the Chinese Government has placed their citizens on high alert and they have had deaths that are increasing in numbers, which means that people on the ground are exposed,” Tufton stated. “If it is extreme enough, then we could advise against attendance and participation. But we would want to do that with the organisers and WHO.”

Local federation

Tufton stated that he would also speak to the local federation before making a decision.

“We would want to talk to the sporting fraternity to ensure that the decision is one that is in the best interest of all who are involved, but certainly from our public health perspective, the lives of our Jamaican people are foremost in our minds,” Tufton said.

Meanwhile, Dr Warren Blake, the president of the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association, stated that as things stand, the plan is to send a team to the event.

“WHO has not deemed it an international quarantinable disease yet, so we are just watching the developments to see what transpired because if it is not and they have not stopped people from travelling to that region, then we will still be going,” Blake said.

“If the meet is on, we just have to pay attention to the health advisories,” Blake added.

Across China, 15 cities have been placed under full or partial lockdown due to the spread of the virus. Wuhan has been effectively quarantined with the mayor, Zhou Xianwang, stating that he expects the number of cases to rise by another 1,000.

The World Athletics Indoor Championships has, over the years, struggled to attract the interest of the best Jamaican athletes. This might continue into the next installment, given the situation with the virus and the fact that the World Athletics Championships, which took place in Doha last year, only ended in October, five months before the start if the indoor championship.