BEIJING: The Asian Games scheduled to take place in the Chinese city of Hangzhou in September have been postponed until 2023 because of the Covid-19 situation, the governing Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) said on Friday.

The 19th edition of the multi-sports Games, second in size only to the Summer Olympics, was scheduled to take place from Sept 10-25 in the capital of Zhejiang province, some 175 kilometres southwest of China’s financial centre Shanghai.

The OCA said in a statement after its executive board meeting in Tashkent that the Hangzhou organising committee (HAGOC) had been well prepared to deliver the Games despite the “global challenges”.

“However, the ... decision was taken by all the stakeholders after carefully considering the pandemic situation and the size of the Games,” it added.

The new dates for the Games would be announced “in the near future”.

“The name and the emblem of the 19th Asian Games will remain unchanged, and the OCA believes that the Games will achieve complete success through the joint efforts of all parties.”

Organisers had said in early April that all 56 competition venues for the Games had been completed as the city prepared to host more than 11,000 athletes from 44 nations and territories.

“With the support and guidance of the OCA and the Chinese Olympic Committee, we will continue to do a good job in the preparatory work and believe that the postponed Hangzhou Asian Games will be a complete success,” HAGOC said on the Chinese version of their website.

The Asian Youth Games, scheduled for December in Shantou, have been cancelled altogether. Tashkent will host its next edition in 2025.

The World University Games, scheduled to begin next month in Chengdu and already delayed from last year, have also been postponed again, until 2023.

Shanghai said on Friday it has brought China’s worst outbreak of Covid-19 under effective control following a month-long lockdown of nearly 25 million people.

Other cities, including the capital Beijing, are facing a wave of additional curbs, frequent testing and targeted lockdowns.

Hangzhou was poised to become the third city in China to host the continental competition after Beijing in 1990 and Guangzhou in 2010.

Some events were due to be held in other provincial cities including Ningbo, Wenzhou, Huzhou, Shaoxing and Jinhua.

OCA acting president Randhir Singh said a task force has been set up to decide new dates for the Games.

“It’s because of the COVID problem... that the Games had to be postponed by one year, by whatever months they decide on,” Singh said from Tashkent.

“We formed a task force, they will look into it... and decide the timing with the concurrence of the Chinese Olympic Committee.”

Singh was sorry for the athletes but felt hosting the Games next year would mean they would have a better chance of peaking at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Taiwan’s star weightlifter Kuo Hsing-chun, a gold medallist at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics — which were pushed back to last year by the pandemic — said she had already accepted the latest disruption.

“With the coronavirus outbreak getting more and more serious [in some places], I was more or less mentally prepared for this,” she said.

But some national Olympic bodies lamented the impact the delay would have on their competitors.

A delay was “not good for the athletes”, Rajiv Mehta, secretary of the Indian Olympic Association, said.

“The athlete will be older by a year. Your practice changes.”

Almost all international sport has ground to a halt in China since Covid emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.

The Beijing Olympics was an exception but it was held in a “closed loop” with everyone inside it — including athletes, staff, volunteers and media — taking daily Covid tests and not allowed to venture into the wider city or have contact with the public.

The start of the Chinese Super League football competition has been delayed and the matches, should they go ahead, could be played under closed-loop management, state media reported.

China has stubbornly stuck to its zero-Covid policy, imposing strict lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing programmes even while other countries start to reopen.

Hangzhou last week beefed up virus curbs after logging a handful of cases, ordering around three-quarters of its population to get tested every 48 hours to access public spaces and transportation.

Officials in the city, home to some of China’s biggest companies including technology giant Alibaba, said the moves would ensure “the virus has nowhere to hide or settle”.

Beijing has touted the zero-Covid strategy as proof that it values human life above material concerns and can avert the public health crises seen in many Western countries.

Top Chinese leaders on Thursday again vowed to “unwaveringly adhere” to zero-Covid and “resolutely fight against” criticism of the policy, despite a growing public outcry.

Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2022

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