Organisers of Olympic qualifier branded 'irresponsible' after Turkish team members test positive for coronavirus

Belfast flyweight Brendan Irvine booked his place at the Tokyo Olympics with victory over Hungary's Istvan Szaka - just hours after it was confirmed the qualifier would be postponed after that evening's action. Picture by PA
Neil Loughran

THE organisers of an Olympic boxing qualifier - which included a 13-strong Irish team as well as coaches and support staff - have been called “irresponsible” after the Turkish Boxing Federation said two fighters and a coach had since tested positive for coronavirus.

The Boxing Road to Tokyo competition at London’s Copper Box Arena was called off on Monday, March 16 - three days after the event began, with athletes and staff from across Europe involved.

Turkish Boxing Federation president Eyup Gozgec has accused the International Olympic Committee’s Boxing Taskforce of failing to take the outbreak seriously enough.

Croatian heavyweight Tony Filipi has also tested positive for coronavirus after participating at the qualifier and has been in self-isolation since returning to Zagreb on March 20.

In a letter sent to board members of the European Boxing Confederation (EUBC), Gozgec said he intended to write to all other boxing associations who sent teams to London to find out if any of their athletes had since tested positive.

"I would primarily like to send your athletes and countryman my most profound thoughts and prayers during this challenging time as the global fight against the COVID-19 virus continues,” he said.

Two of our athletes [and a coach] have tested positive for the new type COVID-19 coronavirus after returning to Turkey from London. All of them are in treatment now and thankfully are in good condition.

"This is the disastrous result of the irresponsibility of the IOC Boxing Task Force… the organisers were irresponsible, and I think they didn't realise the severity of the issue so they just didn't care.

"They just didn't take this outbreak seriously and they didn't care about it. They did no tests for us. They just told us to go. They dropped us at the airport and that was it.

"They knew they were going to have to cancel - why go with it? The health of our athletes and staff is our priority."

The IOC has dismissed any suggestion that it facilitated the spread of the coronavirus, saying it was “not aware of any link between the competition and the infection”.

A statement from the Boxing Taskforce read: "Some news reports appeared to draw a connection between the affected participants and the Boxing Road to Tokyo European qualifier held in London.

"The London event was suspended 10 days ago, on 16 March 2020, and the BTF is not aware of any link between the competition and the infection.

"Many participants were in independently organised training camps in Italy, Great Britain and in their home countries before the competition started on 14 March 2020 and have returned home a while ago so it is not possible to know the source of infection."

The Boxing Task Force was set up to run the Tokyo 2020 boxing tournament following the expulsion of the sport's governing body, AIBA, due to a series of financial and governmental concerns.

A statement at the time of the postponement of the London qualifier said "increasing global travel restrictions and quarantine measures" was behind the decision, with the taskforce claiming the halting of the event would allow boxers to adjust their travel plans and return home.

The taskforce said safeguarding the athletes and officials had been the "top priority", with precautionary measures reportedly taken with the organising committee, medical experts and national health authorities.

Ten of the Irish boxing team stepped between the ropes at the Copper Box during the three days of competition, with flyweight Brendan Irvine sealing his spot at a second consecutive Olympics after defeating Hungary’s Istvan Szaka in their last 16 clash.

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