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The COVID-19 pandemic is keeping a group of University of West Florida athletes a long way from home this spring.
In addition to the canceled spring sports semester, UWF’s international student-athletes have been put in the uncertain position of whether to return home or stay and ride it out in the United States.
Coach Derrick Racine’s championship-caliber tennis program features players from across Europe and South America.
For several, the uncertainty of a return date leaves little choice but to stay.
“We had the option to go home, but the toughest part is that we don’t know if we’d be allowed back or when that would be,” said UWF senior tennis standout Serdar Bojadjiev of Sweden. “As an international, it’s not just one flight. There’d be three or four connections… With all the stuff going on, we don’t want to bring (coronavirus) back to our families.”
Travel restrictions have featured heavily in the response to COVID-19.
In early March, President Donald Trump announced travel restrictions from Europe to the United States while the Center for Disease Control recommends all individuals returning from “Level 3 Travel Health Notice countries” to self-isolate for 14 days.
Sweden is one of those countries. Bojadjiev said he likely won’t be going home until the completion of his extra semester of eligibility. The NCAA granted for seniors in spring sports an extra year of eligibility in response to their seasons being canceled.
“We have a lot of South Americans on the team and most of them have already gone home,” Bojadjiev said. “It’s mostly the Europeans that are still here… It’s a little bit tougher for us but hopefully, this madness will be over soon.”
UWF’s men’s tennis team features 13 international student-athletes on its roster while all nine members of the Argos’ women’s tennis team are international.
For Racine, these unprecedented times require a supportive approach to the student-athletes’ needs on the court, in the classroom and with broader planning.
Racine said one of the biggest travel issues was working with airlines to reschedule or cancel flights that had been purchased months in advance. Additionally, issues of tuition fees and scholarship eligibility are sure to be prominent in the coming months.
One benefit of excelling in a sport like tennis, however, is a level of self-reliance that Racine said will benefit his student-athletes in the coming months.
“Tennis is an individual sport even though we play as a team,” Racine said. “You only need one other person to get a really good workout… They have their rackets and they’re pretty good that way. They just need to stay motivated.”
Eric J. Wallace can be reached at email@example.com or 850-525-5087.