(by Steve Hopkins)
At this point we are all pretty used to the bubble concept at sporting events – creating a protected cohort of players and staff that are separated from the general public in order to minimize the risk of travel and competition. But as the US is emerging from pandemic protections with most of us enjoying relatively open movement and access – and with most of our sports venues now welcoming fans, it looks like Europe is still dealing with the effects of COVID-19.
The European Championships were originally scheduled for last Fall, so this week they will be playing for the “2020” European Championship event titles. Europe, of course, covers a lot of distance and a diverse set of countries. Unfortunately, Europe is currently suffering from an uptick in cases with about 11% of all worldwide cases over recent weeks originating in European countries. Russian and the UK have both had recent increases – though when comparing to the worst results of the last year it appears that Russia (53% of their peak) and Belarus (41% of their peak) are seeing the worst numbers, with the UK, Greece, and Norway all over 15%. Most of the rest of Europe is more in line with the US, and have dropped to 5% or below.
The bubble that has been set up limits movement to the hotel and arena only. There will be three negative tests and quarantine periods for all inside the Bubble before competition begins. The 5000 seats in the Torwar Arena will be left empty. Media are limited to remote interviews and the only photographer will be the official tournament picture reporter (who will share photos).
Only one ball will be used in a match. Players have been told not to breath on the ball, and not to wipe their hands on the table. Handshakes are also not permitted.
This is likely a preview of what things will be like at the Olympics next month – multiple tests, limited access, limited movement, and strict rules. That said, even without some of the normal hype, without the expected fan noise, without the crowds, and even without the handshakes and hugs that we see in this contests in other years – expect to see great table tennis this week in Warsaw (and next month in Tokyo).
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