Tokyo 2020 Olympics: Football and boxing qualifiers moved from virus epicentre

Wuhan was supposed to host the Group B Asian women's football qualifiers and the Asia/Oceania boxing tournament in February.

Hospital staff wash the emergency entrance of Wuhan Medical Treatment Center, where some infected with a new virus are being treated, in Wuhan, China, on Wednesday.   -  AP

Boxing and women's football qualifying for the 2020 Olympics will be moved from the Chinese city at the centre of a virus outbreak to another location in the country, the organising bodies said on Wednesday.

Wuhan was supposed to host China, Taiwan, Thailand and Australia for the Group B Asian women's football qualifiers February 3-9 and the Asia/Oceania boxing tournament from February 3-14.

The Asian Football Confederation said in a statement its tournament will be held on the same dates in the eastern city of Nanjing. It said the change was proposed by the Chinese Football Association.

The International Olympic Committee Boxing Task Force said that the local organising committee had cancelled its event “amid growing concerns in relation to the coronavirus outbreak reported in the city”.

They said that the various sports bodies involved would “explore alternatives”.

Boxing was almost excluded from the 2020 Olympic programme after a series of scandals. The amateur boxing body AIBA was stripped of the right to organise the Olympic competition and replaced with the special task force.

Seventeen people have died and at least 500 have been infected with the SARS-like coronavirus that has spread around China, with the vast majority of cases reported in Wuhan.

A seafood market that sold wild animals is the suspected source of the outbreak.

The coronavirus has caused alarm for its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

Cases have also been reported outside China, in countries including the United States, South Korea, Japan and Thailand.

Even before the announcement about the postponement of the football qualifiers, Taiwan's football association had warned it would withdraw from the matches if they were held in Wuhan, saying that “the safety of players is our top priority”.