By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – A European qualifying event for this year’s Tokyo Olympic boxing tournament will be closed to spectators from Monday due to the coronavirus outbreak, organizers said.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) boxing task force which is organizing the event in the Box at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park said the decision was due to “concerns for public, athlete and volunteer welfare”.
The boxing is also being streamed live on the Olympic Channel, with 53 bouts scheduled on Monday.
Sunday was the second day of the competition, which has gathered together 342 male and female boxers from 43 countries with 77 Olympic spots available.
Another qualifier is scheduled for Paris in May, but that remains uncertain with sport across the continent being canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
There was disappointment for home fans when British women’s welterweight Rosie Eccles went out on a 4-1 split decision to Russian fourth seed Saadat Dalgatova, who reaches the quarter-finals.
“Potentially one more chance… but I’ve got to prove now after that performance that I’ve earned my place at that second qualifier as well. I’m hoping my Olympic dream isn’t over and that this was just a blip on the way,” Eccles told the BBC.
Stateless Afghan refugee boxer Farid Walizadeh suffered a blow to his hopes of fighting at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics after injury ruled him out of his lightweight fight.
Poland’s Damian Durkacz was given a walkover to the last 16 in the 57-63kg category as a result of the 22-year-old’s no-show.
Walizadeh, who fled Afghanistan on foot as a seven-year-old and ended up in an orphanage in Istanbul before being relocated to Portugal, can also still qualify in Paris.
Reaching Tokyo has always been a long shot, however, for the youngster who received a scholarship from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) last March to train full-time.
“When boxing, I can totally get focused in what I’m doing, so I forget what’s happened in the past. And that’s helped me in trauma. Now I’m training,” Walizadeh told Reuters in Lisbon last month.
“I work hard and I want to inspire people that there’s always a second chance if they want. I want to inspire, motivate people not to say ‘OK, it’s done, I’ve lost everything’.
“Yes, I’ve lost my house, yes I lost my childhood, I lost my life, my country, my city, my family, but you can build everything again.”
The Tokyo Games are due to begin in July.
The London tournament is being organized by an IOC task force after the suspension of international federation AIBA last June because of issues concerning governance and finance.
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