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Covid leaves judo team stranded in Kyrgyzstan, Tokyo far away

IN BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, for the Asia Oceania Championship, the Indian judo team is stranded at a hotel, with food and cash running out, after two players tested positive. The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and the Ministry of External Affairs are in touch with the players to bring them back.

The 19-member team including players and coaching staff were quarantined at a hotel, 90 minutes away from the tournament venue, late evening on Tuesday. Following the two positive cases, the Indian team was not allowed to compete in the tournament, which offers crucial ranking points to qualify for the July 23-August 9 Olympics.

Players said there is no provision for food at the facility, and after running out of local currency, they made an SOS call to the Indian Embassy. “The organisers have literally thrown us at this hotel… Each of us had just one sandwich in the morning, which was arranged from outside. We are still waiting for lunch and it is already close to evening,” Avtar Singh, who competed in the Rio Olympics and is hoping to qualify for this year’s Tokyo Games, told The Indian Express.

He added: “Most of us did not bring cash as we thought we will use our credit cards at the hotel we were staying in for the competition. We could not get currency converted as we are quarantined. Whatever cash the coaches had, most of it was spent ordering food.”

According to an official, India was to send a 20-member team of players and coaching staff for the championship.

However, before leaving Delhi, one judoka tested positive and did not travel. The rest of the team was tested again after landing in Bishkek, and all of them were negative.

Before the weigh-in, though, another test was conducted on the players which resulted in one judoka testing positive on Tuesday. The player is asymptomatic, the team official said. “Because of the local rules, all 19 of us are quarantined since we travelled together,” the team official said. “Consequently, none of our judokas could take part in the competition.”

On Wednesday, another Indian player tested positive.

In a statement, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) said that the judokas had undergone four rounds of testing between March 30 and April 5 — two in the weeks before leaving, one after landing in Bishkek and one a day before the competition. “It was in the fourth test, before the competition, that the two were found Covid positive,” the SAI said. “They don’t have any major symptoms but have been quarantined at a safe facility.”

The SAI said the daily requirements are being “looked after by the money allocated to them (the team) as daily allowance for competition”. “The Sports Ministry is in consultation with the Ministry of External Affairs to bring the players back safe.”

A woman player, who did not wish to be named, said: “After the positive case, the whole team was shifted to the hotel… If the organisers are not letting us play, then they should send us back.”

At the same time, players are worried about the impact of the missed tournament on their chances to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. According to the criteria formed by the international federation, the top 18 players in each category are assured of a spot at the Games.

While no Indian features in this list, they could have clinched a place by topping the continental ranking list. An official said India’s top judoka Sushila Likmabam, ranked 44th in the world in the under-48 kg category, was comfortably placed in the continental ranking list and had a favourable draw this week, which could have all but sealed her qualification.

However, her path to Tokyo will now get uncertain following the team’s withdrawal from the event. “We will have two more chances to get ranking points before the June 28 deadline for Olympic qualification. There is a Grand Slam in Russia in May and the World Championship in June. Whoever has the highest number of points after these tournaments will qualify. This was a very good chance for us to consolidate our spot, especially for Sushila. Unfortunately, we will have to wait and watch now,” a team official said.

Judo Federation of India (JFI) president Partap Singh Bajwa, also a Rajya Sabha MP, said they wrote to Indian Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Alok Dimri on Wednesday, asking him to intervene. “The JFI and Indian Embassy are taking full responsibility for the health and safety of the Indian team. Kyrgyzstan’s judo federation, too, has updated us on the possibility of early departure of the Indian team members instead of the scheduled departure on April 10,” Bajwa said.


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