LONDON (Reuters) - The advertising hashtag on the ring apron declared #LondonisOpen but European boxers chasing Olympic slots at a Tokyo 2020 qualifying event went about their business behind closed doors on Monday.
Organisers took the decision to continue at the Copper Box arena without paying spectators due to “concerns for public, athlete and volunteer welfare” because of the coronavirus outbreak.
For many competitors, from countries as far afield as Azerbaijan and Armenia and European nations in lockdown as they battle the virus, the absence of an audience was of little concern.
For others, such as Britain’s Charley Davison who beat Ireland’s Carly McNaul in her opening flyweight bout, it came as more of a blow.
A 26-year-old mother of three from Lowestoft, a port on England’s eastern coast, Davison had been looking forward to a family atmosphere.
“My eldest was going to come out of school and come and watch me today,” said Davison, who took seven years out to have kids before returning to the ring 18 months ago.
“Now he’s watching it on a big screen at home, bless him.
“I’ve got my dad, my boxing coaches, my kids, loads of people who will be watching it in my living room. There was meant to be a load of them coming, half seven they were going to leave.”
The boxing is also being streamed live on the Olympic Channel, with 53 bouts scheduled on Monday.
Despite the lack of a paying crowd, about 70-80 team officials and boxers watched from the VIP seats.
Boxers entered to music, with a ring announcer still providing details for those ‘ladies and gentlemen’ in attendance.
National flags were displayed along the empty upper tiers.
“I just appreciate that we can still box. I’d rather it go behind closed doors rather than the whole event be cancelled, because we’ve worked so hard,” said Davison.
Italian Giordana Sorrentino, a female flyweight from Rome who won her bout against Armenian Anush Grigoryan, said she was just happy to be able to step into the ring given the circumstances.
“It’s started so it’s good for it to continue,” she said of the event. “If it hadn’t started that would also have been understandable.”
Italy is the second worst hit country in the world after China, where the illness first emerged late last year, with 24,747 cases and 1,809 deaths by Sunday, and the Italian boxers have been in London for several weeks already.
The Games are due to begin in July, with growing uncertainty about whether they can go ahead.
The London tournament is being organised by an International Olympic Committee (IOC) task force after the suspension of international federation AIBA because of issues concerning governance and finance.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar