Coronavirus: Jawad urges transparency amid Paralympic ‘panic’

Powerlifter Ali Jawad won the silver medal at the Paralympics in Rio

Powerlifter Ali Jawad won the silver medal at the Paralympics in Rio - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Ima

Great Britain powerlifter Ali Jawad has urged the International Paralympic Committee to provide more transparency over health measures for the Tokyo 2020 Games amid “panic” among athletes over the threat of being immuno-compromised.

Like the International Olympic Committee, the IPC is pressing ahead for the Games to start on August 25 in the Japanese capital, and says its stance will ultimately be dictated by World Health Organisation advice.

In new guidance issued to athletes and seen by the PA news agency, IPC officials admit that some Paralympic athletes could be “more vulnerable” to the virus, and that they “don’t know” the full impact due to its recent onset, and the wide range of underlying conditions concerned.

North London’s Jawad, who is battling Crohn’s Disease and has put off a stem cell transplant in order to compete in Tokyo, is one of a large number of Paralympic athletes who could fall into the “vulnerable” category for catching the coronavirus.

The Rio 2016 silver medalist told the PA news agency: “They (the IPC) need to be very transparent on the information they are giving to athletes right now, because athletes are panicking and not training.

“If the IPC are determined that Games will go ahead, they need to tell the athletes how they are going to tackle the spread of the virus, and what they’re going to do in the Village and competition areas to make sure their safety and welfare is being considered.”

Jawad says his desire to win gold, and an attitude of “informed madness”, convinced him to delay the stem cell transplant, without which he faces months of aggressive chemotherapy and the possibility of a stomach bag.

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But he shrugged off any personal threat posed by coronavirus, insisting his long-time condition meant he was already well-versed in minimising health risks during his training programmes at Loughborough University.

Jawad added: “It’s business as usual for me. We’ve taken a few extra precautions but my plans have always been very flexible and adaptable so this is just another one for me.

“With my health, I approach self-isolation anyway. I use the back entrance instead of the front, and I make sure to wipe down all the equipment. I’ve been doing everything that people are doing now for the last two years.

“On a purely selfish level I can’t have a delay because my deadline for the stem cell trial is in the next six months. Whatever happens with Tokyo, my nightmare is going to continue for at least another year.”

The IPC says the health of its athletes is its top priority, whilst acknowledging the heightened concerns of those who may be more at risk should they contract the virus.

In its latest guidance to athletes, the IPC writes: “ The Paralympic athlete population is not a homogeneous group. Para athletes are all individuals with very different underlying conditions and health needs, so the notion of a one-size-fits-all approach to COVID-19 is not appropriate or representative of an individual athlete’s risk.

“Nevertheless, because of the severity of the impairment or any associated immune deficit or chronic condition, some athletes could be more vulnerable.

“There are no current studies on the potential impacts of coronavirus on Para athletes. The honest answer is that we don’t know because this is a new strain of Coronavirus and there are very little data available.

“Consultation with the IPC Medical Committee and International Federation medical experts, as well as information provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), indicates that there has been no evidence that an athlete with disability in general have a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

“The IPC will continue to seek advice from the WHO, but ultimately athletes are the best judge of their own body and their medical needs.”

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