European Aquatics Championships Swim Into Choppy Waters As Hungary Declares State Of Emergency & Locks Borders

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Friday the 13th. Perhaps it was inevitable. The European  Aquatics Championships and swimming showcase for the continent, scheduled for Budapest in May, hangs on a thread today after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared a state of emergency over the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and locked the nation’s borders.

The decision immediately caused the postponement of the Giro d’Italia, the cycling event having been scheduled to start in Hungary this month, the tour having already had to take account of the emergency lockdown in force at home in Italy.

The Hungarian state of emergency prohibits the organisation of mass events. The European elite championships is scheduled for May 11-24, while the even larger participation event, the European Masters is down to start on May 24 end on June 7. The elite event is scheduled as a Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualifier event for many European nations.

A source close to the European Championships told Swimming World:

“Postponement is in sight but there needs to be some careful assessment on what would be the best option. Personally, I don’t see the Europeans happening in May but I don’t see cancellation either. It’s a one-off event, athletes can also easily adjust their schedules if we manage to find a proper date which makes sense sporting wise.”

Orban courted the inevitable criticism of fellow European leaders when he declared today that foreigners and migration were to blame for coronavirus and COVID-19 making into Hungary.

So far, Hungary has confirmed 19 cases of infections, nine of them Iranians (mostly university scholarship holders), one British national and the rest Hungarians.

Asked during a radio interview why Hungary has closed its universities but not schools in response to the virus outbreak, Orban said it was because “there are lots of foreigners there”. He added:

“Our experience is that primarily foreigners brought in the disease, and that it is spreading among foreigners. It’s no coincidence that the virus first showed up among Iranians. We cannot separate the tens of thousands of foreign students (in Hungary) from the Hungarian students, that’s why we thought it best to stop all visits to those institutions.”

In Hungarian-language messages posted on its Facebook page, the Hungarian Government has warned Iranians that they will be detained and deported if they fail to cooperate with national disease control authorities.

Last week, after the first infections were confirmed in two Iranian students, Budapest suspended the issuing of visas to Iranian citizens. Orban barred the doors of the country indefinitely to its border camps for asylum-seekers as it said refugees and migrants arriving there may have been in virus hot spot Iran. Said Orban:

“We are fighting a two-front war, one front is called migration and the other one belongs to the coronavirus, there is a logical connection between the two as both spread with movement.”

There is as yet no indication as to how long the state of emergency will last but experts have forecast May as the probable peak of Hungarian cases of coronavirus, in common with other European nations. That would coincide with the European Aquatics and Masters championships – and another ‘flood’ of foreigners heading to Hungary.

The list of postponements and cancellations of aquatic events, including Olympic test events, trials and related championships as well as significant swimming events such as the NCAA Championships has turned from a trickle to a flood in the past 48 hours.


Lane Lines and stumbling blocks – Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Australia, China, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Italy, France, Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands, Brazil and Japan have all had major meets affected by the coronavirus pandemic, while in the United States, the NCAA Championships have been cancelled and USA Swimming has imposed a 30-day suspension on all events, while Canada is considering what to do about its Olympic trials early next month. In Italy, where swimmers are struggling to maintain normal routines, can’t get to practice and in some cases find pool time, a #stopolympics campaign was launched by the Nuoto website calling on solidarity among swimming nations to recognise that Olympic preparations have been blown off course and that it would be in the interests of fairness to postpone the Games for a time of calm beyond the coronavirus crisis. 

Our coverage:

Extraordinary Events In Swimming History:

Guidance on Water and Coronavirus 

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