Weightlifters' Tokyo dream in the balance
The Samoa Weightlifting Federation is yet to decide if the country’s gold medal-winning weightlifters will go to the Tokyo Olympics due to concerns over rising Covid-19 cases in Japan.
S.W.F. President Tuaopepe Jerry Wallwork told the Samoa Observer in an interview he is not willing to expose the weightlifters as coronavirus variants continue to rise in Japan. "That's a very concerning issue for us, and we don't want to take the risk if it's not confirmed for us,” he said.
“Otherwise we might end up stuck out there for three or four months before getting back to Samoa.”
The Samoa Association of Sports and National Olympic Committee (SASNOC) is currently looking at travel options that will work best for the team, according to Tuaopepe.
"We had a meeting yesterday with SASNOC, they are still trying to find a safe passage there and back through the flights and the connections, and also taking into account the uncertainty of how COVID-19 now is,” he said.
“There's actually a spike of COVID-19 with two variants of COVID-19 from India, the mutants strand, one from India and one from England that are now in Japan.
“That is a major concern because they say it doesn't matter if we had the two injections, you can still catch it and get sick.
"So we're trying to weigh all the options, also the option of someone might get sick, and then he'll be held back in Japan, and go into quarantine, and the financial side of covering for all this.
“Right now SASNOC does not have the finances and the Government has not provided any assistance because the Government is undecided right now."
A decision will be made by the first week of July on whether the whole team will travel and what are their options, says Tuaopepe.
"But it really is the safety of the athletes and the officials' concern first and also the concern of getting back to Samoa,” he said.
“We might not be able to make the flight back and on that repatriation flight, if we miss it that means we will be stuck in New Zealand for another month.
“We're going to quarantine in New Zealand and then we have to wait for another month before we could actually make it on the flight to get back to Samoa because the Government has canceled a lot of flights for July.
“That's where we are right now, but we have not stopped our preparations. We're preparing to compete at the Olympic Games whether we go and we don't go.
“Weightlifting will prepare right up to the last day."
And with the COVID-19 pandemic engulfing Japan, Tuaopepe says that there are also other issues that they'll be faced with if they ever get stuck overseas.
"It's a very sensitive issue and everything has to be right on target with the confirmation of flights so that we don't end up either missing the competition or missing the flights,” he said.
“So much uncertainty around and also the financial coverage over there. If we get stuck over there, we end up having to pay from our own pockets.
"For some reason if COVID-19 gets worse and New Zealand cancels the flights from Japan to New Zealand, then our time there will be paid from our own pockets which are very expensive. We have to weigh all that."
Tuaopepe’s weightlifters Don Opeloge, Nevo Ioane and Iuniarra Sipaia and their dreams to represent Samoa on the world’s largest international sporting stage now remains uncertain.
And their President says he knows how hard they are training to earn their places and they will be disappointed if the decision is made to pull out.
"My three athletes and all my athletes have been training very hard for the last eight years, just to get to the Olympics,” he said.
“It's a dream to get to the Olympic games but not only to get there, but I also have three athletes going to the Olympics and are all ranked in the top 8.
“So they are not only going to compete but they will be competing at the highest level, where some of them will win a medal.
"So it is going to be very disappointing and upsetting but we are trying our best.
“It is out of our hands right now, it's within the connection and whether we can get on. I'm hoping that the Government can assist somehow, to make it smoother and easier for us to go and come back.
“The training is going well, we have our ups and downs but it's perfectly going well now.”