Olympics: European boxers fight off virus concerns ahead of Tokyo qualifier

LONDON (Reuters) - Olympic boxing hopefuls from all over Europe are preparing to punch their tickets to Tokyo at a qualifying tournament starting in London this weekend, with an emphasis on clean hands and hygiene in a time of coronavirus.

The Road to Tokyo event features some 350 fighters from 50 countries including Italy, the European country worst hit by the outbreak and now in lockdown as it combats the spread of the disease.

Event director John Timms told Reuters on Thursday there had been no withdrawals from the March 14-24 tournament, other than some officials from the worst affected areas who had stayed at home.

“We’ve been blessed with some really sensible teams traveling here, who when this story started to break and unfold actually put plans in place to be in the UK a lot earlier,” he said.

“Many teams have been here for over two or three weeks in preparation camps and have been here well beyond the quarantine periods. We’re in good shape in that respect.”

The ticketed event at the Copper Box will see 50 men and 27 women secure their places for the Tokyo Games.

It is being organized by an International Olympic Committee (IOC) taskforce following the suspension of international federation AIBA last June because of issues concerning governance and finance.

“(The Italians) have been over here for a significant period of time and that was good preparation on their part,” said Timms.

“They knew there might be issues, they wanted to keep their boxers safe, they were all from outside the original quarantine area so they wanted to get them here so they could prepare properly.

“We are carrying out additional testing on athletes, that will be taking place all the way through the tournament,” he added. “We are advising teams to do that as well.”

The irony of handshakes being shunned, before the gloves come on, in a contact sport of sweat and blood is obvious but British boxers expressed no concerns at a pre-tournament media event.

“I know the Italian team have been over here for a few weeks so I’m more than confident that they are completely fine,” women’s middleweight world champion Lauren Price told Reuters.

“They have as much right to be here as us. They’ve worked hard and it’s their dream as well to get to the Olympics.”

“We’ve sat down with the medical team and gone through all the procedures; cleaning, washing your hands, not shaking hands with other countries. I’m more than confident and happy that everything’s fine and put into place.”

Men’s middleweight Lewis Richardson, winner of the Tokyo test event last October, was equally relaxed.

“I don’t really focus on it. We can only focus on the controllables. We’re doing everything we can,” he said. “We’ve just got to focus on training and working hard and putting ourselves in the best position to take the most of the opportunity.”

Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond