— Published 2 February 2022

Malago and Henriques the latest victims of the COVID push

The Beijing 2022 Winter Games will not start for another two days. At least for the athletes. But the IOC is already getting into battle.

Its Executive Board has been meeting since Wednesday 2 February at the Intercontinental Beijing Beichen Hotel, located on the edge of the Olympic Park. The next day will see the 139th session of the body. It promises to be historically short, as it will initially be reduced to a single day.

The session will be extended by a second day on Saturday 19 February, on the eve of the closing of the Beijing Games. A second stage that will be more copious than the first. On the menu, the election of three new members, including Frenchman David Lappartient, President of the UCI (Slovakian Danka Bartekova and refugee athlete Yiech Pur Biel are also proposed), and a discussion on the sports programme for the Los Angeles Games in 2028.

Due to the health crisis, the 139th IOC Session is accessible online for IOC members who were unable to travel. A new feature. At last count, the list of absentees already included a large number of names. The list could grow even longer in the coming hours.

The latest IOC member to be placed in isolation for having contracted the virus is Giovanni Malagò. The President of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI), and of the Organising Committee of the Milan-Cortina 2026 Winter Games, has tested positive for COVID-19. He was tested after his arrival in Beijing, during a daily test at his hotel.

CONI explained in a statement: “President Malagò, who is totally asymptomatic, was isolated under medical observation in a dedicated facility, where there are already other members of the IOC, according to the rules set out in the IOC Playbook in order to protect the other participants in the Games and the Chinese population.”

Giovanni Malagò joins a long list of IOC members placed in isolation or prevented from travelling for health reasons. The list includes Hungary’s Dániel Gyurta, Finland’s Emma Terho, Chair of the Athletes’ Commission, and Brazil’s Andrew Parsons, President of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).

Another absentee is Princess Anne. The Briton has decided not to travel to China, as she did last summer for the Tokyo 2020 Games. “This is due to the flight and COVID travel restriction difficulties in getting to and from the Games without losing too much of her busy work schedule at home” Buckingham Palace explained in an official statement.

Canadian Dick Pound, the oldest IOC member, is also absent from the Chinese event. Soon to be 80 years old, he felt that the cost and constraints of travel were too high for a session reduced to a single day and accessible in virtual mode.

On the French side, the surge in cases of COVID-19 has also significantly reduced the size of the official delegation. After Tony Estanguet, the president of the Paris 2024 OCOG, was prevented from flying to Beijing after testing positive, two other figures in the sports movement were forced to review their plans. The president of the French National Olympic and Sports Committee (CNOSF), Brigitte Henriques, and the head of the Olympic delegation to the Beijing Games, Nathalie Péchalat, have tested positive.

The CNOSF announced on Tuesday 1 February at the end of the day in Chinese time: the two leaders cannot, for the moment, fly to the Beijing Games. “They will support the French athletes and staff in China from a distance and plan to travel to Beijing when their situation allows,” the statement said.

According to the rules laid down by the Chinese authorities, they will have to present four consecutive daily negative tests, then find a special flight to the Beijing Games, before packing their bags and travelling to China. Not an easy task.