TOKYO – South Africa’s rugby sevens team turned to video conferencing in their bid to win a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics as Neil Powell takes on the role of virtual coach to lead the team from his isolation room in Kagoshima.
The South African team has been affected by four infections, one in the rugby sevens team and three in the football team participating in the Games.
Sevens head coach Powell has tested positive for Covid-19 and has to self-isolate for 14 days, meaning he won’t be sidelined when one of the pre-tournament favorites aim for the ‘or from July 26 to 28.
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But he will continue to help the team he has been coaching since 2013 in their preparations this week, albeit via a computer screen, and will liaise with assistant coach Renfred Dazel on match day.
The entire team was quarantined on arrival in Japan when they were identified as close contacts of an infected person on their flight from Doha to Tokyo. The group, Bar Powell, has since been cleared.
This delayed the team’s arrival at its base camp in Kagoshima from Wednesday to Saturday as they isolated themselves in Tokyo, meaning they missed essential training days.
“Obviously we need a little bit of time on the pitch from a physical point of view, so we hope to stretch our legs a bit,” said Dazel.
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“We’re all always in a good mood and understand that we can’t change those things that we can’t control. We were able to add some fun elements to the adjusted training schedule and it certainly helped.”
South Africa won a bronze medal under Powell at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and will again be among the favorites. They are in Group C with the United States, Kenya and Ireland.
Defender Thabiso Monyane and winger Kamohelo Mahlatsi, along with video analyst Mario Masha, are in isolation as they prepare to face hosts Japan in their opener on Thursday.
South Africa’s chief medical officer Dr Phatho Zondi said they were surprised at the infections, but he believes all protocols were followed for the country’s athletes participating in the Games.
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“Each member of the South African team needed a full medical clearance as an eligibility requirement,” Zondi said in a statement.
“In addition, they were encouraged to self-isolate for two weeks prior to departure, monitor their health daily, report any symptoms, and produce two negative nasopharyngeal PCR tests performed within 96 hours of departure as per the requirements of Tokyo 2020.
“The timing of the positive results suggests that the PCR test in these individuals was performed during the incubation period of the infection, so they could be negative in South Africa and then positive in Japan.