AIS emerges as coronavirus saviour for Olympic athletes

The under pressure Australian Institute of Sport could become a refuge for Olympic Games athletes as they search for training venues to help them best avoid coronavirus.

The Canberra Times can reveal several sports have reached out to officials in the past two days to determine whether facilities will be available to Tokyo hopefuls as coronavirus causes chaos in world sport.

The government's advice on Friday to avoid large public gatherings of 500 people or more from Monday is creating shockwaves being felt by every sport.

Some competitions have been cancelled, some are in danger of being cancelled and others will continue to be played in empty stadiums.

Major developments included:

  • The NRL and Super Rugby announcing they will play at empty stadiums in Australia from next week;
  • The Canberra Raiders and ACT Brumbies doubleheader in New Zealand could go ahead, but it's unlikely fans will be able to attend;
  • The Australian Formula One was cancelled, and;
  • Crowds were refused entry to Australia's one-day international cricket series against New Zealand.

But the AIS has emerged as a potential safe haven, which could revive the athlete hub atmosphere that has gone missing over the past decade.

It's understood Australia's swim stars could relocate to the capital to use the AIS pool, while the new $2 million athletics track or the altitude facilities could be crucial to athletes hoping to win medals.

Institute officials will "segregate" high-performance athletes and staff from the general public to reduce the risks associated with coronavirus infection.

The institute was a thriving sports hub in its glory years, encouraging cross-pollination of ideas and training to help Australia athletes flourish on the world stage.

But in recent times it has come under heavy fire from critics for shifting away from what is believed to be its core purpose, which has seen dwindling numbers of athletes regularly on campus.

"The AIS has been fielding an increased number of enquiries from sport interested in holding high-performance camps in Canberra and is expected to host more athletes in the coming weeks," an AIS spokeswoman said.

"Sports that are considering this option include swimming, artistic swimming, athletics, softball and water polo.

"The Australian women's water polo team recently rediverted its training camp from Europe to the AIS, having spent three months in camp late last year.

"The AIS also continues to ensure high-performance athletes and support staff have segregated spaces in which to train, recover, eat and sleep."

Sport Australia, a federal government body, and the AIS have been working on a way to reinvigorate the Bruce base to make it more relevant for modern-day athletes.

One mooted plan involves selling half of the 65 hectare campus and reinvesting the money in sports science and newer facilities.

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But the fact the AIS has accommodation, sports medicine, science and training facilities has made it a potential saviour for Olympic hopefuls.

Some swimmers and athletes are using public facilities, which could increase their exposure to coronavirus health risks.

The federal government has issued advice that public gatherings of more than 500 people should be cancelled from Monday.

It is unknown how long crowds will be locked out of rugby league and rugby union matches, but Canberra clubs will be hit with a major financial blow expected to run into the millions because of lost game-day revenue.

The Raiders' round-one match went ahead on Friday night and the Brumbies are free to play at Canberra Stadium on Sunday.

Both teams are scheduled to play in Auckland next weekend in a historic double-header, and it's understood the NRL and Super Rugby are pushing ahead with plans to travel across the Tasman.

The AIS pool could be used by Australia's top swimmers from as early as Monday. Picture: Jay Cronan

The AIS pool could be used by Australia's top swimmers from as early as Monday. Picture: Jay Cronan

Some non-essential club staff and supporters have cancelled their trips already, while others will likely reconsider after the federal government increased its travel advice to "level three".

Tennis ACT has cancelled its claycourt international as part of an ITF and ATP ban on events, Canberra amateur rugby teams have postponed matches, Basketball ACT is disinfecting balls after games and the Australian Formula One was cancelled.

Golf, basketball, ice hockey and international soccer matches have also been cancelled in the United States.

AIS and Australian Olympic chief medical officer David Hughes has been in regular contact with officials about the coronavirus situation. The AIS has also created a website to support athletes and staff.

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This story AIS emerges as coronavirus saviour for Olympic athletes first appeared on The Canberra Times.