Plan at your peril - Blake, Crowne weigh up implications of organisers intent to press ahead with Tokyo Games
Jamaica Athletics Adminis-trative Association (JAAA) president Dr Warren Blake says that Olympic Games officials will be forced to rethink their stance on hosting the event this summer as global infection numbers for the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, increase.
Olympic Games Chief Executive Officer Toshiro Muto said that the Summer Games will go ahead as planned in spite of the spread of the coronavirus. But many athletes and administrators have questioned such a decision, with over 10,000 people having already died from the virus globally and countries placing travel restrictions on regions seriously impacted by the spread.
Blake says that such a stance is premature as there is still uncertainty about the future impact of the pandemic.
“This is still early days,” Blake told The Gleaner. “There’s a real risk of getting coronavirus when it comes closer to the Olympics. I’m certain that the authorities will rethink because at this point in time, they can’t predict what will happen. It’s not even next week, much less four months down the road.”
Blake, a medical doctor by profession, had previously made his feelings known about prioritising public health and safety over major sporting events.
“It will disrupt the track and field calendar, but extreme times call for extreme measures,” Blake told The Gleaner last Tuesday regarding talks of cancelling the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships. This was after news of Jamaica’s first official COVID-19 patient being discovered. “Our main aim has to be to mitigate what has happened and minimise the number of cases in Jamaica. That has to be our main aim, and that supersedes any track and field meeting,” he said.
Should the Olympic Games go ahead as intended by its organisers, what would it mean if an athlete went to compete and became infected by the virus? Would he or she be able to take legal action against the organisers or his or her National Olympic Committee (NOC)?
Blake refuted this idea in relation to the JAAA, saying that an athlete’s competing on Jamaica’s behalf is his or her own choice. This is legally known as volenti non fit injuria, or the voluntary assumption of risk.
“If we send athletes, they don’t have to go,” he said. “Every athlete has the right to refuse to go. We’re not forcing anybody to go. When they do go anywhere, something can happen, so they have to sign a disclaimer form.”
While agreeing that organisers could make the defence of volenti non fit injuria, sports attorney Dr Emir Crowne believes that an athlete in such a position would have a strong case to make.
“An athlete would have an action in negligence against both the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and the host country or venue,” he said. “Both Japan and Switzerland (where the IOC is headquartered) operate under the civil-law system (unlike most English-speaking Caribbean countries, which operate under the common-law system).
“The concept of negligence is, however, recognised under both Swiss law and Japanese law, and there’d be no reason why an action couldn’t be pursued against either,” he said.
Crowne says that the liability of the NOC would be a factor considered as well.
“If they mandate that athletes attend the Olympic Games, are they knowingly, negligently, or recklessly exposing their athletes to public-health risks? Even if an athlete is told they can ‘opt out’ of the Olympics, is that a meaningful choice? This is, after all, the Olympics – the pinnacle of an athlete’s career.”
Should the pandemic be controlled by global health authorities, the Olympic Games are scheduled to take place in Tokyo, Japan, from Friday, July 24, to Sunday, August 9.
Global COVID-19 figures
Confirmed cases: 209,839
Countries, areas, or territories with cases: 168
China: 81,174 cases, 3,248 deaths
Italy: 35,713 cases, 3,405 deaths
Japan: 873 cases, 33 deaths
USA: 7,087 cases, 218 deaths
Jamaica: 16 cases, 1 death