covid-19

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With Anthony Fauci’s eyes on closed-door return, which Olympic sports can be played?

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Anthony Fauci, the now-ubiquitous director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has outlined a path for sports to return in the United States behind closed doors.

Fauci, speaking with Good Luck America’s Peter Hamby, pointed toward a path for having public sports events this year.

“There’s a way of doing that,” Fauci said. “Nobody comes to the stadium. Put them in big hotels wherever you want to play, keep them very well surveilled … and have them tested every week.”

Such a plan might work for Major League Baseball, in which talk of a plan to put all 30 teams in Arizona has met with skepticism, or Germany’s Bundesliga, in which soccer teams have returned to training with the prospect starting play in May even after Chancellor Angela Merkel extended a ban on public gatherings through Aug. 31.

Olympic sports, though, might have a more difficult path back to action.

Even without fans, athletes are often packed into close quarters. A track and field meet like the Prefontaine Classic, which is still scheduled to take place June 6-7 in Eugene, Ore., would have more 100 athletes cycling through the stadium in addition to coaches and officials. Those athletes would also be traveling in and out of Oregon, not confined to a hotel and a ballpark.

The athletes’ youth and fitness may help them stave off serious issues if infected, but Fauci also warned that the risk of illness for young people from COVID-19 — while less than the risk to older people — is greater than initially believed.

“What we’re disturbingly starting to see now, which is really troublesome is that the initial cases from China made it seem that young people and healthy people get a mild illness it goes away, no problem,” Fauci said. “Now we’re starting to see that people who are younger are getting ill, and some of them are getting seriously ill and even dying from this.”

That discovery means athletes themselves, not just older or unhealthier fans, could be at risk of illness.

Fauci also talked with NBC’s “Today Show” Wednesday morning to talk about the possibility of states relaxing restrictions that were imposed with the onset of the pandemic:

Most Olympic sports events in the United States through June have already been canceled or postponed:

April 15-19: Equestrian, World Cup show jumping and dressage finals, Las Vegas canceled

April 16-26: Ice hockey, world under-18 men’s championships canceled 

April 20: Track and field, Boston Marathon postponed to Sept. 14

April 28-May 3: Water polo, World League intercontinental tournaments, Indianapolis postponed, no new date set, may be relocated

April 29-May 3: Road cycling, Tour of the Gila, New Mexico canceled

May 14-17: Golf, PGA Championship, San Francisco postponed to Aug. 6-9

May 26-31: BMX racing, world championships, Houston  postponed, no new date set

June 4-7: Golf, U.S. Women’s Open, Houston postponed to Dec. 10-13

June 6-7: Track and field, Prefontaine Classic, Eugene, Ore. still set to run as scheduled

June 12-14: Artistic swimming, World Series, Rochester, N.Y. canceled

June 12-14: Sport climbing, World Cup, Salt Lake City postponed, no new date set

June 18-21: Golf, U.S. Open, Mamoroneck, N.Y. postponed to Sept. 17-20

June 25-28: Golf, Women’s PGA Championship still set to run as scheduled

Aug. 6-15: Track and field, world championships, Eugene, Ore. postponed to July 2021 due to postponement of the 2020 Olympics

Aug. 31-Sept. 13: Tennis, U.S. Open still set to run as scheduled

The AVP beach volleyball tour has canceled two events and postponed two more, with the first event of the year now set for June 19-21.

In golf, the PGA Tour still has a May 21-24 tournament on the calendar. The next LPGA Tour event that has not been postponed or canceled is set for June 11-14.

In tennis, the ATP Tour‘s next U.S. event is the Hall of Fame Open, set for July 13-19 in Newport, R.I. The WTA Tour isn’t due in the United States until August.

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U.S. Anti-Doping Agency applies social distancing to drug testing

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DENVER (AP) The typical day for Noah Lyles now looks something like this:

Drive to park. Unload weights from truck. Sprint on grassy field. Lift. And, every now and then, head home and take a doping test.

The world-champion sprinter is one of 15 American athletes who have volunteered to conduct in-home drug tests on themselves as part of a pilot program being run by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. With anti-doping collections severely curtailed across the globe because of the coronavirus pandemic, USADA is looking at new options, in this case by asking a group of leading Americans to give urine and small dried blood samples at home.

“They asked me to do it, and I wasn’t opposed to doing it,” Lyles said. “It’s a way to get my drug test in.”

Athletes are still required to fill out their whereabouts forms, and under this program, a doping control officer will connect with an athlete via Zoom or FaceTime during a prescribed window.

Athletes receive test kits at home and head into their bathroom to give urine samples while leaving their laptops outside the room. Under normal circumstances, the officer would come to the house (or wherever the athlete was at the time) and stand outside the bathroom. In this case, the officer looks on via the camera while the athletes are timed and their temperatures are monitored to ensure they are giving the samples in real time.

The blood test uses a new technology dry blood sampling in which athletes prick their arms and small droplets of blood funnel into a container. Athletes are then responsible for packaging the samples and sending them back to testing labs.

USADA CEO Travis Tygart says the program gives clean athletes a chance to prove they have remained clean during a time in which anti-doping regulators are having a difficult time reaching the numbers of athletes they normally would. It’s an issue that will make the return to play the Olympics are rescheduled for 2021 but other events are expected to come back sooner that much more difficult to navigate.

“It was going to unnecessarily create a question when those athletes went to Tokyo and won, where people would say, ‘You won but you weren’t tested during the pandemic’,” Tygart said. “How unfair is it for athletes who will be in those circumstances?”

Others taking part in the USADA program include Allyson Felix, Katie Ledecky, Emma Coburn and Sydney McLaughlin.

USADA hasn’t been shy about these sort of test programs in the past. In 2008, it launched a pilot project that involved testing the efficacy of biological passports which allows authorities to track athletes’ blood over time for abnormal changes – the likes of which are in common use today.

Tygart concedes the new system is far from perfect or ideal. In short, it depends on athletes to do the right thing in an industry that has been rife with cheating and manipulation for decades.

“The people who play clean want to be true heroes and role models,” Tygart said. “We also know there are some bad folks out there who will attempt to exploit it. … For the good of the athletes, anti-doping has to reinvent itself in times like these to stay relevant.”

Lyles recalled the days not long ago when he started winning junior competitions and kept waiting for a doping-control officer to show up after the race.

“I kept thinking, ‘When am I going to get my first drug test? I keep winning gold,” he said.

Now, drug tests are part of his routine even if the routine is changing in ways nobody could have imagined a few months ago.

“You do your part to show you’re clean, and you get to the state where it’s, ‘I’m clean, come test me’,” Lyles said.

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