Covid-19 refuses to slink away

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This week Covid-19 has brought disturbing news on several fronts to the world of women’s sport.

It took on a sharp form at the Madrid 7s at the weekend. When the French squad announced a positive Covid test and withdrew, the USA squad decided to withdraw as well.

When the tests proved negative, it was too late for the USA to reinstate themselves; they had already left. This rendered the second day of the tournament a huge let-down. The favourites Russia did win, but against Kenya, not the higher ranked French or Americans as had been expected.

In New Zealand drastic steps have been taking to limit an outbreak of the virus in Auckland. The England cricket team was expecting to play the first of its three T20 internationals in the country’s largest city, but the venue has been switched south to Wellington. At the same time the hateful phrase ‘behind closed doors’ raises its head again. The three ODIs just completed did have spectators in attendance. Now it’s back to the new norm, empty arenas.

This has a direct bearing on the Rugby World Cup, due to start in September in and around Auckland. The NZ government has pursued a vigorous policy of combatting the pandemic, with considerable success. But it has been helped in this drive by the country’s relative isolation. Teams will be arriving for the RWC from most of the world’s continents. Will NZR, New Zealand’s rugby union, be able to put safety measures in place to ensure the smooth running of the tournament? One major concern is the length of time players will need to arrive before the first match takes place. 14 days is already written in; any extension to that lengthy period will serve only to worsen the conditions the players have to submit to.

The men’s Six Nations match between France and Scotland was postponed for similar reasons. The women’s 6N, much altered and reduced, has been rescheduled for April. In the current circumstances it looks more vulnerable than we would wish. Games in the women’s Elite 1 championship in France are still falling by the wayside.

One heartening area of advance is the European branch of the RWC. Spain beat the Netherlands this weekend by a commanding 87-0 in Guadalajara to qualify to compete with Ireland, Italy and Scotland for a place in the final stages in New Zealand. But there has been no news of precisely when these ties will be staged.

As for the Olympics, athletes in every discipline go on training flat out, not an easy undertaking when a second abandonment seems all too possible. We probably don’t have any fingers left over to cross; they’ve all been in that uncomfortable position for months.

The medical experts tell us that wholesale vaccination is the answer; failing that, an effective testing programme where accurate results can be assured in the shortest reasonable time. It leaves sports authorities in a serious dilemma, wanting their events to go ahead, but mindful of the need to keep personal safety as the top priority.