In what will no doubt be a trend in the fitness competition realm as long as the COVID-19 pandemic runs rampant across the globe, the implementation of the “bubble” model for combating the spread of the virus seems to have gained traction. The organizers and the competing athletes of the Taronja Games will confirm this after becoming one of the first CrossFit competitions to adopt this safety practice.
Following the lead: Two days ago the NBA restarted their 2019-2020 season with much fanfare. The reason they were able to do this was the creation of the “bubble,” a highly restricted, guarded and sanitary community of athletes that are closely monitored, tested, wearing masks and social distancing. After their second-straight week of zero COVID-19 positive results among their 344 athletes, they have so far been the standard-bearer of how to continue sports at the highest level. With Major League Baseball, international soccer leagues and college football teams all struggling to find the safest path to start or resume play, the NBA model is one that appears to be successful and one that will be adopted in a similar fashion for the 2020 CrossFit Games.
The Taronja “bubble:” According to Taronja Games director Iván Colmenarejo safety and security were the priority when he decided to continue his three-day competition in Valencia, Spain.
- In its sixth season and claiming to be the first post-COVID European non-professional sporting event, Colmenarejo wasted no expense in regards to athlete and staff safety protocols.
- With just a two month window, the organizers obtained permits and consulted with local and international health professionals on creating the protocols for over 200 athletes and staff from 13 different European countries in attendance.
- The biggest challenge was creating the “bubble” for the athletes and staff. The organizers were able to secure the NH Las Artes Hotel as the quarantined athlete area and hotel.
- The hotel was ideal due to its close proximity to the Fuente de San Luis Sports Center where the bulk of the competition was held.
- None of the three event locations allowed fans.
- Before the competing athletes could even travel to Valencia they had to fill out an exhaustive medical questionnaire that was created by Spanish health officials specifically for the competition. Among other questions, the athletes were asked if they had any contact with anyone that tested positive for COVID-19.
- The athletes and staff were then required to arrive a day before the competition and stay at the hotel. Before checking in they had their temperature taken, filled out a medical tracing form and then received a rapid COVID-19 blood test followed by isolation in their hotel room as they awaited their results.
- After receiving their negative result they were assigned a member of the staff who would assist them with any needs. This allowed the athlete to limit their time in public and high-traffic areas.
- All meals were provided by the hotel and they catered to any dietary requirements the athletes needed. The meals were served by hotel staff to cut down the contact between the athletes and the food areas.
- The hotel staff also had to subject themselves to daily testing as the hotel was restricted to people involved directly with the competition.
- Medical professionals and health care workers were available 24 hours a day during the competition to help, monitor and answer any questions the athletes had.
- When not competing or walking to and from the event all athletes and staff were required to wear a mask while maintaining two meters of distance from other people per Spain government mandates.
- On the competition floor the judges and event staff had to keep their masks on while the athletes could compete without a mask.
- After the events, a cleaning crew disinfected the equipment between heats. The athlete warm-up area received the same treatment.
- Hand sanitizer was readily available throughout the hotel and competition locations.
- Over 350 tests were administered over the four days and none came back positive.
What the athletes had to say: The event featured Regional and Games athletes from all over Europe. The ones we interviewed had positive things to say about the safety measures and the competition itself.
- Jacqueline Dahlstrøm, Norway (45th at the 2019 Games and winner of the women’s RX division at the Taronja Games): “The safety measures meant we all had to go to the venue and leave at the same time, which at times could be annoying when you’re tired and just want to get back to the hotel, get something to eat and get ready for the next workout. If it wasn’t for this I would have been able to relax more and not stay in the venue that long, however it was the same for all the athletes and therefore didn’t affect the overall performance.”
- Lisa Eble, Germany (49th at the 2019 Games, two-time German National Champion, third in the women’s RX division at the Taronja Games): “I felt safe with these safety measures in place. It was good to know that everyone at the event had to pass the COVID-19 test. When I got invited, I first was very unsure if I should participate. All the athletes from all over the world came together and stayed at the same place. Therefore the test gave us safety and security for the period of the competition. As long as everyone is doing the prescribed rules, I think this kind of competition is safe.”
- Erin Sims, France (second place in the women’s 35+ division at the Taronja Games): “Despite all the safety measures and some miscommunications I still absolutely loved it! The best part was being quarantined with the other athletes and getting to know each other. It was fantastic!”
- Alizee Andreani, France (2018 Meridian Regional qualifier, 115th in 2020 CrossFit Open, fourth fittest in France): “It was a great competition! When we arrived they gave us a COVID-19 test immediately and then fed and accommodated us all in the same hotel. The safety protocols were well organized with our well-being the priority. I felt safer at this competition than I do at home. Overall this event was perfect in my opinion.”
- On whether the safety protocols were a distraction or affected her performance Eble commented: “The new safety measures did not affect my performance. Quite the opposite actually. Because all the athletes have been quarantined together and we all were living in the same hotel, we were walking together, we got to know all the other athletes so much better. I have now done quite a few CrossFit and functional fitness competitions, and this atmosphere has been very special, friendly and good. This was a very positive experience for me and a special moment.”
The bottom line: Colmenarejo said there are many lessons learned from holding this event and still a lot of room for improvement but highly recommends that other large-scale competitions adopt similar practices if they can afford it. The 2020 Games looks to have many of the same protocols in place. These protocols appear to be effective with sporting events that do not require much time exposed to others and for non-team events where contact with other athletes is minimal.
- “We at the Taronja Games wanted to send a message of a united community that works great as a team, for our sport, for the competition, entertainment and above all else for society,” said Colmenarejo. “We must be more united now than ever. That’s why we want to help and give advice to the rest of the competitions. We are always ready to help, we want to be a part of the rebuilding process and help others that have to deal with this virus.”
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