Virus threat: Ritu Phogat bout in Singapore behind closed doors

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Wrestler-turned-fighter Ritu Phogat’s will compete in her second Mixed Martial Arts bout in front of an empty arena due to concerns about coronavirus outbreak. Phogat (1-0), is set to take on Chin’a Wu Chiao Chen (2-1) at One Championship’s ‘King of the Jungle’ event on February 28 in the promotion’s home base of Singapore.

Chatri Sityodtong, founder and CEO of the Asian MMA promotion, said that he decided against cancelling the event in favour of a behind-closed-doors bout, and all tickets bought for the 12,000-capacity Singapore Indoor Stadium will be refunded. The event will be available globally on broadcast and streaming.

“In light of the coronavirus situation in Singapore, I have made the decision to convert ONE: King of the Jungle on February 28 into a closed event for broadcast only. The Singapore Indoor Stadium will not be open to the general public, but the event will proceed behind closed doors as scheduled live on all TV and digital platforms across 150 plus countries around the world,” Sityodtong said in a statement. “If you purchased tickets to attend the event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, you will receive a full refund… My team and I had the option to cancel the event altogether, but we chose not to cancel it. More than ever, the world needs hope and strength right now.”

As of Monday midnight, China’s health authorities have reported a total of 72,436 coronavirus cases and 1,868 deaths on the mainland. Singapore’s tally of 77 cases is only behind China and Japan (619 cases and 1 death). The outbreak forced the Singapore government to raise the alert level to orange last week, and the Ministry of Health urged organisers to defer non-essential events.

Masks and home-cooked meals

Since signing with One Championship last February, Asian and Under-23 Worlds medallist Phogat has been living and training in Singapore. Speaking with The Indian Express on the sidelines of an open workout last Wednesday, the 25-year-old who made her MMA debut last November, said she “hadn’t been thinking about the virus outbreak” and added that she relies on masks and home-cooked food as precautions.

A fighter training at the Evolve MMA gym in Singapore told this paper that fellow One Championship athletes have also been barred from attending the fights next Friday.

“The conditions aren’t that bad in Singapore, and we’ve only been wearing masks for two days,” said the martial artist on condition of anonymity. “However the precautionary measures have been raised at our gym too, including daily check-ups.”

One Championship has already had to relocate an event from Chongqing, China on April 11 to Jakarta.

“Safety is our number one priority… We will take all the necessary precautions for the athletes, fans, employees feel safe. distribute masks,” chief commercial officer Hari Vijayarajan had said when asked about the disruptions due to the outbreak. “We choose to take this as an opportunity… Because others have cancelled, the viewership numbers have doubled as people want to be entertained.”

“This is an opportunity to go big in China, even though we may not physically organise matches there. The benefit of having a big audience in the same time zone is that apart from the 10,000 people in the stadium, nobody needs to know where you are.”

Rival promotion UFC has also been affected by coronavirus. Ahead of her title defence on March 7 at UFC 248, women’s strawweight champion Weili Zhang of China first moved her training camp from Beijing to Thailand, and later to Abu Dhabi.

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