When javelin thrower Tek Chand leads out India’s contingent during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympics, there will be one glaring anomaly: none of the eight others walking behind him will be athletes.
This, after the Games’ strict Covid-19 protocols forced almost half-a-dozen Indians into quarantine, some others serving three days of soft quarantine and a few choosing to skip the opening ceremony at Tokyo’s National Stadium to prepare for their events.
Consequently, only nine Indians will take part in Tuesday’s ceremony. Apart from Tek Chand, who was named as the flag-bearer at the last minute, others who’ll be there in the opening will include chef de mission Gursharan Singh, deputy chef de mission Arhan Bagati, the contingent’s other administrative staff and one coach, Satyanarayana.
A record 54 Indian athletes in nine sports will take part in the Tokyo Paralympics but not all of them have reached the Japanese capital yet. “Our teams are leaving in batches. So far, only seven Indian athletes have reached Tokyo and completed the quarantine,” said Ravi Chauhan, who is with the Paralympics Committee of India. “A few who were supposed to go have been quarantined after they were identified as close contacts. It’s unfortunate but the situation is under control.”
India’s Paralympic campaign got off to a slightly shaky start after the PCI announced on Tuesday that six members of the contingent, including flag-bearer and Rio Games gold medalist Mariyappan Thangavelu, had to be quarantined after they were found to be close contacts to a Covid-positive patient on their flight.
Mariyappan, who finished on the top of the podium in 2016 in the high jump (T42), along with teammate Vinod Kumar, a discus thrower, and a few members of the coaching staff have been quarantined inside their rooms at the Games Village itself. Their Covid-19 tests, which were conducted by the organisers later on Tuesday, returned negative, according to Chauhan.
“We were concerned initially but they are all fine,” Chauhan said. “We took all precautions but someone on the flight tested positive so they had to quarantine. This was a big day for Mariyappan, and also for us, since he was supposed to be the flag-bearer. He was really looking forward to this. But there’s closing ceremony still, so hopefully, he can be a part of that.”
After Mariyappan and Vinod were quarantined, Tek Chand was the only remaining athlete who could take part in the opening ceremony. The para table tennis players, Sonal Patel and Bhavina Patel, chose to skip the ceremony so that they could concentrate on their events, which begin on Wednesday.
The para-archery and para-shooting teams landed in Tokyo on Tuesday but as per rules, they will not be allowed to mix with athletes from other nations for the first three days of soft quarantine. This ruled them out of the ceremony.
A total of 162 countries will be a part of the opening ceremony and India will be the 17th country, after Iran, to march out during the nation’s parade.
India is not the only country to be affected by the Covid-19 situation in Tokyo ahead of the opening ceremony. New Zealand’s Paralympic team withdrew from it on Tuesday morning over Covid-19 fears.
The website, insidethegames.biz, quoted New Zealand’s chef de mission Paula Teseoriero as saying that “standing among large groups of people from many nations is not aligned with our commitment to our COVID-19 protocols.”