The Hong Kong Judo Association is hoping to obtain government approval to stage an Olympic qualification tournament early next year to boost home judokas’ hopes of making it to Tokyo next summer. In December the Asian Open in Hong Kong was cancelled due to the Covid-19 situation. Hong Kong hosted the Asian Open three years in a row as follow up of the Hong Kong International Tournament. Hong Kong also hosted the Asian Championships.
The association is seeking permission to set up a “safety bubble” in which overseas competitors would be exempted from required quarantine measures. The local governing body knows their hopes of a qualifying tournament is a tall order given the seriousness of the fourth wave of the pandemic, but they are hoping Olympic hopefuls would be able to compete at home and obtain the necessary points to qualify for Tokyo.
Top exponent Leung Po-sum, who competes in the women’s U57kg category, is currently ranked ninth and she can obtain her ticket for Tokyo through the continental quota system, which will close on June 28. Only the top 18 players from each weight category can qualify for the Olympics, while 10 continental quota places across all categories will also be up for grabs for Tokyo.
“Leung stands a good chance at the moment but needs to maintain her position by taking part in competitions approaching the end of the qualification period,” said Hong Kong Judo Association chairman Wong Po-kee. “In fact, she has not competed since February this year after an event in Dusseldorf because of the global pandemic outbreak. If we can stage an event in Hong Kong, it would definitely boost her Olympic [qualifying] hopes.”
European events dominate the calendar
The judo chief is also worried that with more competitions taking place in Europe next year, it may weaken Leung’s Olympic hopes, given that it is extremely difficult for local judoka to travel to the continent or anywhere in the world.
“We are planning to send Leung to Europe next year but it’s very difficult to get out of Hong Kong these days under the quarantine requirements, both for Hong Kong and overseas countries,” said Wong. “If she cannot compete any more, she may be overtaken by other judokas from the region. Having a qualifying event in Hong Kong will help safeguard her position.”
Leung is an elite athlete under the Sports Institute tier B programme and the Sha Tin training authorities have been following strict guidelines in allowing athletes to compete overseas due to the pandemic.
The Judo Bubble of the IJF
Even if Leung were to compete overseas, she would still have to go through at least a 14-day or longer home quarantine upon her return to Hong Kong, which in Wong’s view, would be detrimental to a combat sports athlete as it would be hard for them to maintain form under quarantine.
“The International Judo Federation has formulated a set of protocols for hosting events under the pandemic, using a safety ‘bubble’ concept for overseas competitors and officials. If the government can accept this safety feature and lift the quarantine requirement for overseas arrivals, we may be able to work out a fruitful plan. Indeed, this is not only for judo but other sports can follow suit so that they can stage international tournaments in Hong Kong” Chairman Wong said.
Under the protocols, all overseas attendants must be tested before and upon their arrival in Hong Kong and show no symptoms for at least 14 days. Their movement during the tournament will be limited to their hotels and competition venues. They will have to wear a mask at all times unless on the tatami during competition. Wong said they would discuss with the government regarding the safety protocols as soon as possible.