MASERU – Lesotho’s lone female marathoner for the Tokyo Olympic Games, ’Neheng Khatala, and an athletes’ attaché, Fetang Selialia, are terrified by the prevailing Covid-19 situation in Tokyo. A number of athletes are reported to have tested positive for the Covid-19 pandemic since their arrival at the Olympic Games Village in Tokyo for the global multi-sport competition.
Khatala and her husband Khoarahlane Seutloali, who is also Lesotho’s lone male marathoner for the Tokyo Olympic Games, will leave for Tokyo next Tuesday, while Selialia will leave the country on Thursday next week. According to the international media, by Tuesday this week, Tokyo reported 1 387 new Covid-19 cases and the number of cases linked to the games was by then over 70, according to organisers.
Among athletes who are reported to have tested positive for the Covid-19 pandemic since arriving in Tokyo are the US competitors such as beach volleyball player, Taylor Crabb, who tested positive on Wednesday this week and a 17-year-old tennis star, Coco Gauff, who tested positive last Sunday. Two South African Under-23 national team players, Thabiso Monyane and Kamohelo Mahlatsi also tested positive. Monyane and Mahlatsi were the first athletes inside the Olympic Village to test positive and they have both been moved to a separate isolation facility on site in Tokyo.
The CEO of the Tokyo Olympics organising committee, Toshiro Muto, said in a press conference on Tuesday that he did not rule out a last-minute cancellation of the Games if Covid-19 cases continued to rise. But both Khatala and Selialia said the Olympics should not be cancelled or postponed, despite that they are terrified with what is happening in Tokyo. “The situation in Tokyo already makes us feel uncomfortable,” said Khatala in an interview with Public Eye on Wednesday this week.
“But I think the fact that we are going to leave very late for the Olympics is another thing that is going to save us from the virus.” Khatala said their safety would be very crucial since they depend entirely on running. “We are not going to stay at the Olympic Games village. We are just going to spend one day at the village and leave to Sapporo on the following day for the marathon competition and then after the race we would come back home.
“That’s the good thing about us and we need the grace of God not to test positive for Covid-19 before and until the race.” Khatala further said the cancellation of the Olympics would not at all be helpful at this juncture. “It is true Covid-19 pandemic is dangerous but now the reality is that we are going live with it, and so I don’t think it would be a good decision to cancel the Olympic at this time.
Again, some of us depend entirely on sports and if they are cancelled time and again it means we are going to suffer a lot as athletes,” said Khatala. Selialia, who is also the President of the Federation of Lesotho Rugby (FLR) and a member of the Lesotho National Olympic Committee (LNOC), shared the same sentiments with Khatala. “Indeed the situation in Tokyo makes me uncomfortable and very much worried about what is going to happen,” said Selialia in a separate interview on Wednesday.
“It is too bad so to say, after countries have invested a lot in athletes.” Selialia further said: “But I don’t think it would be fair to cancel the games at this time. I would rather say an athlete who tested positive be replaced by their second best athletes from their respective countries.” Lesotho chef de mission at the Tokyo Olympic Games, Letsatsi Ntsibolane, however, said there’s no way that the Games could be cancelled.
“Remember that on July 23 it’s the opening ceremony and preparations are in full swing,” said Ntsibolane. “So there’s no way the Games could be postponed, not at all.” The Tokyo Olympic Games had initially been scheduled to take place last year but were postponed to this year due to the same Covid-19 pandemic. Both Khatala and Seutloali will be making their first appearance at the Olympics, with Lesotho yet to win a medal from the Olympic Games since 1972.