Lausanne: Recognising the unique situation for the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games in view the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has given relief to a few team sports, allowing 'stand-by' or 'alternate' players to be part of certain squads.
This relaxation has been given to hockey, football, water polo, handball, and rugby, whose squads comprised fewer players than that available to them in other international competitions. For example, hockey squads at the Olympics comprise 16 players while at World Cup and other events, they have 18.
Similarly, football teams have 18 players in the Olympics and 23 at other major events, though the 23-member squads don't have standbys. Thus, to make up for the shortfall, teams have been allowed to keep some standby players in the Olympic host city but out of the Olympic village.
The Olympics start on July 23.
"This will not increase the number of athletes on-site in Japan, but will give more flexibility to select within the wider squads, recognising the unique situation for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and giving NOCs [National Olympic Committees] maximum flexibility in choosing match squads," the IOC said in a release on Saturday night.
Earlier, these 'alternate' replacements were available only as permanent replacements for players unavailable due to injury or some other reasons. Now, each team will be able to use these athletes in each match, which means the players that the 'alternate' is replacing can also return to the squad once he is unavailable.
However, the team sheet for a match will still have the same number of players as in previous Olympics -- for example, 16 in the case of hockey and 18 for football.
The expanded roster would come as a big relief for hockey teams like India that have to sacrifice one goalkeeper to adhere to the number restrictions. Hockey India has picked senior player PR Sreejesh as the lone goalkeeper while Krishan Pathak is among the two players on standby who would stay at a hotel near the village. Now, Pathak too will be part of the squad, can train with them, and can even be picked in the 16-member roster for matches.
The expanded rosters would also give coaches more flexibility as the Olympics have a tight schedule with limited rest time as well as expected heat and humidity in Tokyo during the Games.
The IOC decided to relax rules following a discussion with the international federations, which have been seeking more standby players in view of the pandemic. Football teams have been allowed expanded rosters for major European leagues due to the COVID-19 pandemic.