A slimmed-down version of next month’s FEI Sports Forum will now be held online as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
Only time-sensitive issues originally scheduled for the early-April forum will proceed, with other matters originally on the forum agenda to be addressed later.
The list of countries recording cases of the coronavirus, named Covid-19, is growing, with the number of confirmed cases worldwide now topping 100,000.
The outbreak, which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan, is causing global disruption to trade and travel, with economists forecasting a significant hit to the world economy.
The FEI, which hosts the annual Sports Forum in Lausanne, Switzerland, says it has conducted a full risk assessment of what it describes as the rapidly evolving Coronavirus Covid-19 situation.
It examined — based on the advice from relevant health authorities — whether the health and safety of delegates at next month’s FEI Sports Forum could be assured.
The forum, it says, involves a gathering of multiple persons travelling from all over the globe.
“While delegates may be healthy on departure from their country of origin, they are at risk of in-transmit contamination,” the FEI said in a statement.
“Additionally, if there were to be a confirmed case of the virus during the Sports Forum, there is insufficient infrastructure and resources to quarantine all participants.
“As a result of this assessment, it is absolutely clear that there are too many risks associated with hosting the Sports Forum this year and, regrettably, the FEI has had to make the decision to cancel the in-person event and host the time-sensitive sessions online.”
“Maintaining the full consultation process is important to us, so we will organise an online FEI Anti-Doping Rules session, including an update on the new WADA Code and on the proposed changes to the Equine Anti-Doping Rules.”
The FEI says the full session on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic & Paralympic Games will also be hosted online, with detailed updates on final venue preparations and logistics, horse transportation, and optimising performance in challenging climatic conditions for both horses and humans.
Other important topics that were initially included in the Sports Forum — events requirements and standards, the status of grooms and coaching — will be addressed at a later stage.
Olympic athletes told to continue preparations
Meanwhile, the outbreak is casting a shadow over the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, scheduled to begin late in July.
The International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board has discussed the issue, saying a joint task force involving the IOC, Tokyo 2020 Games organizers, the host city, the Japanese government and the World Health Organization (WHO) has been created.
“The IOC will continue to follow the advice of WHO, as the leading United Nations agency on this topic,” it said in a statement.
“All stakeholders continue to work closely together to address the challenges of the coronavirus.”
The IOC is encouraging all athletes to continue to prepare for the Games.
“The IOC will keep supporting the athletes by providing the latest information and developments, which are accessible for athletes worldwide on the Athlete365 website.”
Precisely what options are considered viable by Games organizers and the IOC are unclear.
For example, a delay in staging the Games would create all kinds of logistical problems, as well as disrupting an already full sporting calendar for the year.
Also, it would create serious problems in terms of accommodating athletes. More than 5000 apartments in the athletes’ village are due to be sold to private residents after the Paralympics, in a deal agreed four years ago.
Another suggestion involves running the games without spectators, although this would involve refunding hundreds of millions of dollars worth of tickets. Under this scenario, only athletes, broadcasters and key support personnel would be at the venues.
Other possible options include delaying it by a year, moving the Games elsewhere, or cancelling the event altogether.
IOC president Thomas Bach said this week that the organization had not mentioned “cancellation” or “postponement” during a recent two-day executive board meeting in Lausanne.
Bach stresses that the IOC will follow the advice of the Geneva-based WHO.