Devi Sridhar, a health expert currently guiding Scotland’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, says that officials have ‘no choice’ but to cancel the Tour de France given the significant risk to public health it represents.
The annual race was pushed back to August from its usual start date in June after French president Emmanuel Macron banned all large public gatherings in the country until at least July 11.
But Sridhar says that the logistics of the large-scale race would further the spread of coronavirus throughout France, potentially leading to further lockdown measures being announced by the end of summer.
“The wise thing to do is cancel for this year,” Sridhar said.
“It’s a painful decision but they have no choice. This is a long-term problem, a chronic problem. This virus is here to stay and will come back. Even if France gets a handle on it by August, then, of course, the issue is people coming in from different countries.
“There’s definitely a risk that the Tour de France moving around and unwittingly spreading the virus could kick-start a new lockdown.”
Most major sports on earth have been impacted by the global pandemic as various governments institute methods designed to curtail the spread of the virus.
However, various sports – particularly in the United States – have begun to investigate ways to once again open their doors and return to action once again.
In the case of the Tour de France, its broadcaster Eurosport welcomed the plan to delay the Tour until August as “very good news,” but Sridhar is keen to preach caution and says that restrictions shouldn’t be relaxed to accommodate high profile sporting events, as well as the television networks who have invested in them.
“They have to weigh the risks against the benefits,” he explained.
“Thousands of people from all over the world, gathered together, moving around, from town to town, this is where a virus could thrive – it could be a recipe for disaster.”
Logistically, Sridhar says that holding the event would present many problems. He says that a two- or three-week quarantine would need to be imposed on all team members entering the country before they are granted permission to enter French society.
But he emphasized that, because a high level of infections are transmitted by asymptomatic sufferers, it would be nearly impossible to keep a lid on the virus.
There are also concerns that some riders, including current champion Egan Bernal of Colombia, may have difficulty in being granted entry to the country dependent on any travel bans than may or may not be in place at the time.