Japan to Tunisia, what does rowing look like during a pandemic
In a ‘normal’ year, November would be the time to celebrate the best in rowing with the World Rowing Awards. However, 2020 has been anything but normal.
This year, we use the November month to recognise the extraordinary efforts of rowers and rowing clubs around the world to adapt to the coronavirus measures in their own countries while maintaining sport and community as much as possible.
In this second of a series of articles we jump between Japan and Tunisia, looking at both masters and coastal rowers.
The first phase – lockdown
Earlier this year the coronavirus erupted worldwide and many countries around the world enforced some version of lockdown. The effect on rowers varied. Some clubs were closed, while others imposed new restrictions and allowed limited training. Nathan Wilson is an Australian who trains as a masters rower with the Partez Rowing Club at the Mitsubishi Boat Club in Tokyo, Japan.
Wilson says the administration of the coronavirus measures is complicated in Japan, due to the legal powers at different levels of government. But the Japanese government declared of a state of emergency on 13 March 2020 and a few days later, Wilson wrapped up his last training at the boat house.
“Many of us started training at home,” Wilson says. “We kept record on an excel file that was shared, so we could all see what each other was doing.”
Across the world, Sahar Moumni, a rower for the Tunisian national team, who recently competed at the 2019 Mediterranean Beach Games, was experiencing a total lockdown. Moumni normally trains at the national centre in the capital Tunis, but went back to her parents’ house in the coastal town of Tabarka during lockdown. She was allowed to have an ergometer with her at home, but the monotony was difficult.
“I became a bit depressed,” she says. “It was just erging and studying. The same thing every day.”
Coming out of lockdown
After three months of home training, both Wilson and Moumni were able to get back on the water in early June.
“It was a staged process,” Wilson says. “First rowing in singles, then doubles, fours and finally eights.” Wilson’s club trains on the Toda Rowing Course, which hosted the 1964 Olympic Games, and in a normal year they take advantage of the many races that are organised there.
“The first official race of the season is the Cherry Blossom Regatta at the end of March,” Wilson says. In a normal year, the course hosts races almost every weekend and Wilson and his teammates race anywhere from six to ten times. This year there was just one event, held in September. Wilson says they jumped back in the eights as soon as possible to prepare.
Meanwhile in Tunisia the lockdown ended in early June and Moumni was thrilled to breath fresh air and exercise outdoors. “I just went outside to swim,” she says, “and it felt so nice.”
Moumni, a student, returned to Tunis where she took her final exams and started to train again at the national training centre, but restrictions remained tight.
An adjusted reality
The release from lockdown did not mean return to normal. Rowing clubs were busy putting measures into place to reduce risk and comply with new government requirements.
For Moumni, the restrictions meant that each group of rowers have their own specific training time. They are not allowed to train indoors together and everyone is required to train in singles. Moumni is focusing on her goal of making it to a World Rowing event.
“I just have to keep focused on training,” she says. “I hope to go to the World Championships in the lightweight women’s double, or in coastal rowing.”
Moumni also does coastal rowing. She won a silver medal at the 2019 Mediterranean Beach Games together with double partner Sarrah Zamali. Moumni grew up in a coastal town and she thinks this gives her an advantage. “You have to be able to read the waves,” she says, “and I can,” she adds laughing.
The return to normal is perhaps more pronounced at Wilson’s club in Japan. While the club imposed a few new hygiene measures such as taking the rowers’ temperatures when they enter the club, there are few restrictions to training. Wilson is quick to note that people in Japan frequently wore masks before the coronavirus, and that mask-wearing is a must.
But even as we talk, Wilson glances over at the television to see the mounting numbers of coronavirus cases in Japan. He shakes his head.
“We might be having the start of the third wave today,” he says. “The cases now are much higher than they were back in March. Let’s see what happens.”