The Asian Games due to take place in Hangzhou in September have been postponed indefinitely, organisers said on Friday, as China battles a resurgence of Covid-19 cases.
No reason was given for the delay, but China is racing to extinguish its largest outbreak of Covid-19 since the early days of the pandemic.
"Following detailed discussions with the Chinese Olympic Committee (COC) and the Hangzhou Asian Games Organising Committee (HAGOC), the OCA Executive Board (EB) today decided to postpone the 19th Asian Games, which were scheduled to be held in Hangzhou, China, from 10 to 25 September 2022. The new dates of the 19th Asian Games will be agreed between the OCA, the COC and the HAGOC and announced in the near future," an official statement read.
"HAGOC has been very well prepared to deliver the Games on time despite global challenges. However, the above decision was taken by all the stakeholders after carefully considering the pandamic situation and the size of the Games."
"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."
The host city of Hangzhou lies near the country's biggest city, Shanghai, which has endured a weeks-long lockdown as part of the ruling Communist Party's zero-tolerance approach to the virus.
Organisers said last month that Hangzhou, a city of 12 million in eastern China, had finished constructing some 56 competition venues for the Asian Games and Asian Para Games.
At the time, they indicated that they planned to hold the events under a virus control plan that "learns from the successful experience" of the Beijing Winter Olympics, which were held in February in a Covid-secure bubble.
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.
Almost all international sport has grind to a halt in China since covid emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.
"Additionally, the OCA EB also studied the situation of the 3rd Asian Youth Games, which was scheduled on 20-28 December this year in Shantou, China. After discussion with the COC and the Organising Committee, the OCA EB decided that as the Asian Youth Games had already been postponed once, the Asian Youth Games Shantou 2021 will be cancelled. The next Asian Youth Games will therefore be held in 2025 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan."
The Beijing Olympics was an exception but it was held in a strict "closed loop" with everyone inside it, including athletes, staff, volunteers and media, taking daily covid tests and not allowed to venture into the wider public.
China has stubbornly stuck to a zero-covid policy, imposing strict lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing programmes even while other countries start to reopen as the threat of the pandemic recedes.
The government has touted the strategy as proof that it values human life above material concerns and can avert the public health crises seen in many Western countries.
Top leaders on Thursday again vowed to "unwaveringly adhere" to zero-covid and "resolutely fight against" criticism of the policy despite a growing public outcry against the measures.
Anger is especially pointed in Shanghai, where 25 million people have seethed under a patchwork of lockdowns since March amid complaints of overzealous lockdown measures and spartan quarantine conditions.
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