(ATR) Fears over the coronavirus are leading organizers to host the upcoming World Cup Finals races in Cortina d’Ampezzo without spectators.
The decisionhas led to objections and additional concerns from national ski association leaders.
International Ski Federation (FIS) men’s race director Markus Waldner told Swedish Television SVT earlier this week: "As it stands, Cortina is where the competition will be held, but with no fans. This could change in the coming days."
Public winners ceremonies and bib draws would also not be held during the event, which runs from March 18-22.
Austrian Ski Federation president Peter Schröcksnadel said the decisions taken bring up additional questions and concerns.
"If you don’t let the audience in, why do you let the athletes in," Schröcksnadel told media. "The athletes are out and about in the hotels and there are kitchen staff and waitresses. Should you really expose the athletes to a certain danger?"
"In my opinion, the coronavirus is nothing more than a new flu. In the light of the hysteria that there is, of course, you have to consider what you are doing," he said.
"It is actually a disaster – I just don’t like it," added Austrian men’s racing director Andreas Puelacher. "This is not motivating for the athletes."
Schröcksnadel made it clear that Austria is not interested as a replacement organizer.
Waldner affirmed: "There is only one official plan: Cortina".
Women’s World Cup races in La Thuile, Italy – located in the Aosta Valley in northwest Italy – are proceeding as scheduled this weekend, but with a reduced number of fans and precautionary procedures implemented by FIS.
Reporters and cameramen are required to maintain a distance of one-and-a-half meters during interviews with athletes in the mixed zone. In addition, the wind cover on microphones should be changed after each athlete interview. Public winner’s ceremonies, bib draws and press conferences will also not take place.
Cortina organizers have yet to provide an official statement about the decisions and procedures being implemented for the March races.
Cortina is located in Northern Italy’s Veneto region, which has been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Italy's sporting calendar has been thrown into disarray as the country tries to contain the virus. Some towns in the affected regions have been put under lockdown.
While the women are competing northwestern Italy, the men are in Hinterstoder, Austria, where this weekend’s race schedule has been juggled due to mild weather and soft course conditions.
Coronavirus fears and uncooperative weather have thrown the final month of ski racing into chaos.
"If we see the global picture, which will affect us for the next two weeks, we have a lot of uncertain situations," Waldner told Austrian ORF TV on Thursday. "It is still very quiet here in Austria with the coronavirus, it is a bit more difficult for the women in La Thuile.
"There is news every day and nobody knows what will happen in the next two weeks. Everything we can do is good. The signal that OSV (Austrian Ski Federation) president Schrocksnadel gives us is really in the spirit of the sport, for which we are very grateful to the OSV."
Women’s races scheduled for Ofterschwang, Germany next weekend, March 7-8, have already been canceled due to lack of snow. FIS is seeking a replacement venue. The men travel to Kvitfjell, Norway for speed races. The tour’s penultimate races in Kranjska, Slovenia (men) and Are, Sweden (women) lead up to the World Cup Finals in Cortina.
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Written by Brian Pinelli
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