Indian boxers training in Italy for next month’s Olympic qualifiers were given the option of flying out early due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) threat in the country, but the team has decided to stay put as its training base in Assisi is “far” from the epicentre of the outbreak.
The Indian team, comprising 13 boxers and about the same number of support staff, is currently in Assisi, a hill town in the central Italian region of Umbria. The COVID-19 outbreak in Italy has so far affected the northern Lombardy region, leaving seven dead and 229 infected.
“We are staying put in Assisi, we have a scheduled training tomorrow. We were a bit worried when we heard news of the outbreak. But as we understand now, the outbreak is quite far, near Milan, while we are in the central region,” India’s High Performance Director Santiago Nieva told PTI from Assisi.
“We have spoken to the Italian authorities and realised that there is no need for concern for us right now. Please do not spread unnecessary panic, there is no early fly out happening. We will depart as scheduled on Friday,” he asserted.
The Olympic qualifiers for boxing are scheduled to be held in Jordan from March 3. The event was postponed by a month after the original host — Wuhan in China — went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Indian team, comprising decorated stars such as the legendary M.C. Mary Kom, Amit Panghal and Vikas Krishan among others, is scheduled to leave for Jordan from Rome on Friday.
Eleven Italian towns — 10 in Lombardy and one in the north-eastern region of Veneto — have been placed under a lockdown, according to various media reports.
The team was given the choice of leaving as early as Wednesday after Nieva expressed concerns in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak in his communication with the national federation.
“Yes, the federation had given us the option of taking an early flight to Jordan, but we are okay with staying back and completing our camp as planned because we are far away from the threat,” Nieva said.
“There is no need to panic, my message to the federation was meant to sensitise them of the situation and explore options should the situation arise,” he added, when asked about his message to the Boxing Federation of India (BFI) Secretary General Jay Kowli.
The event in Jordan will kick-start the qualifying process for the Tokyo Olympics this year.
“Our training is going quite well. Everything is as per plan and we are confident of a strong showing in the qualifiers,” Nieva said.
The women’s team of five boxers has been training in Assisi since February 18, while the eight-strong men’s squad joined in on February 23.
Boxing’s Olympic qualifiers as well as the main event in Tokyo is being conducted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
The decision was taken after the IOC suspended the International Boxing Association (AIBA), owing to alleged financial and administrative mismanagement.