Coronavirus update: WHO backs Tokyo 2020, China Golf Open postponed, Gymnastics World Cup and more

John Coates, chair of the IOC Coordination Commission, will head up the joint steering committee

The World Health Organisation has backed the International Olympic Committee’s assessment that there is no need to cancel or move the Tokyo 2020 Olympics because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Following the conclusion of a two-day project review of Tokyo 2020, John Coates, the head of the IOC’s coordination commission for the event, said: “Certainly the advice we’re received externally from the WHO is that there’s no case for any contingency plans or cancelling the Games or moving the Games.”

Coates said there had been good coordination between task forces appointed by Tokyo 2020, and the Japanese government and the Tokyo Municipal Government: “Pleasingly, there has been very, very good coordination between the two, sharing of information, which is so critical.”

Coates said that most of China’s 600 or so athletes have been preparing for the Olympics and Paralympic Games abroad, and so would not need to be quarantined when they arrive in Japan for the Games: “We hear that most of the Chinese athletes are now out of China. I don’t know how many were to be involved in test events here, but I don’t see a problem if they’re coming from another country.”

He said lessons would be learned from the Rio Olympics four years ago, when concerns over the Zika virus led to several top athletes withdrawing from the Games, including golfers Jason Day and Rory McIlroy. “The WHO pointed out the likelihood of Zika being a problem at the time of the Games was very low.

“But we did lose some athletes – Jason Day’s wife was pregnant. We didn’t communicate the information well enough.”

Coates said communications were key to ensuring Tokyo 2020 stayed on track. “Certainly it’s a very big communications job that needs to be undertaken.

“The IOC is going to ensure (information) kits are sent to all national committees to explain what’s happening around the world where Chinese athletes are competing. But I can confirm Tokyo 2020 remains on track.”

Tokyo 2020 chief executive Toshiro Munto added: “We don’t yet know who will be competing at test events so we can’t say anything for sure.

“But we will have information from the qualifiers that are under way and take the necessary steps.”

Asian Water Polo Championships

After Kazakhstan withdrew from hosting the Asian Water Polo Championships this week, the International Swimming Federation said it will use results from the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang to determine the Asian qualifiers for Tokyo 2020 instead. Fina was unable to find a replacement host.

China, Iran, Kazakhstan and South Korea were supposed to contest the men’s event, while China, Japan, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Singapore and Uzbekistan were to scheduled compete in the women’s competition.

Maybank Championship, China Golf Open

Two European Tour golf tournaments, the Maybank Championship, scheduled for April 13 to 16 April and the Volvo China Open, due to take place from April 20 to 23, have been postponed. Keith Pelly, the chief executive of the European Tour, said: “We are currently investigating alternative dates for both events.”

Title sponsor Maybank requested the Maybank Championship to be postponed, the European Tour said, whilst the decision to postpone the Volvo China Open was “taken following consultation with tournament stakeholders; the China Golf Association, Genzon Golf Club, Shenzhen Government, title sponsor Volvo and promoters Mitime Golf.”

World Sailing

Two Asian sailing qualifiers for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics have been moved from Hainan, China to Genoa, Italy. Governing body World Sailing confirmed that the 2020 49erFX Asian Championship and the 2020 Nacra 17 Asian Championship will both be held as part of the Sailing World Cup in Genoa on April 12 to 19.

Artistic Gymnastics World Cup

The Chinese gymnastics team that was to compete in this week’s Artistic Gymnastics World Cup has pulled out of the competition due to Australian travel restrictions. Gymnastics Australia chief executive Kitty Chiller said: “It has been a very challenging few weeks for us all, but none more so than for the Chinese gymnasts and officials who have been training and preparing to come to Melbourne.

“I have been in regular contact with the Chinese Gymnastics Association and its President, who informs me all of their delegation are well and have shown no sign of infection.

“Despite this, we all have to respect the Australian Government’s travel restrictions.”

Among the 12 Chinese athletes to miss out are four-time world champion Zhang Chenglong, who claimed the men’s team gold at the 2012 London Olympics and bronze at the Rio Games.

The World Cup, which runs from February 20 to 23, offers qualifying points for this year’s Tokyo Olympics.

Boxing New Zealand

Boxing New Zealand chairman Keith Walker said disruption caused by the coronavirus is causing “major problems” in funding for Olympic qualification.

A qualifying event for Tokyo 2020, which was to be staged in Wuhan in China, was called off just four days before the Kiwi team was due to travel there from its training camp in Thailand. The qualifiers are now scheduled to take place in Jordan from March 3 to 11.

Walker told local media: “When Wuhan was cancelled we had major problems. We had to fly them back home and not through China, so we had to buy other air tickets for them.”

The cost of flying the Kiwi team back from Thailand and to Jordan could leave the governing body bankrupt, he said: “We won’t have money to spend on anything else this year unless we can get some sponsorship or support.

“We flew up with China Southern and we weren’t allowed to use them coming back because it went through China. We had to buy new tickets with Qantas, which was double the price we anticipated.”

Other events cancelled and news

The inaugural Open 3×3 Wheelchair Basketball World Championships has been cancelled. It was due to be part of the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation World Games in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, which has been moved to April 2 to 9. International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF) secretary general Nobert Kucera said the new dates had resulted in the sport “no longer being able to be part of the event”.

The 2020 XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship off-road triathlon scheduled for March 28 in Taiwan has been cancelled. The XTERRA Taiwan off-road triathlon, duathlon, and trail running events will continue as planned on the weekend of March 28 to 29 for Taiwan-based participants only. To best protect the local community, visitors from outside the island will not be allowed to participate.

Portuguese Primeira Liga champions Benfica expressed solidarity with coronavirus-stricken China before their home league match against Sporting Braga on Saturday. Before kick-off, players from Benfica and Braga wore shirts with the message, “Stay strong China, we are together” in Mandarin as a show of support to Chinese people. The same message could also be seen in the centre of the pitch, in front of the players’ line-up and on screens at the stadium.

Benfica president Domingos Soares de Oliveira said: “On my behalf and on behalf of Sport Lisboa e Benfica, I want to express a feeling of deep solidarity with our friends from the People’s Republic of China, at this very difficult time, that we are sure they will be able to overcome.”

Cai Run, China’s ambassador to Portugal, expressed his thanks to Benfica and the Portuguese people for their show of solidarity and support: “I would like to thank Benfica and friends from all around Portugal for their condolences and support to China in fighting the coronavirus. This has shown the friendship between Portuguese and Chinese people.”

Benfica has close ties with China. It has two football schools, in the cities of Chongqing and Nantong, where eight of the club’s coaches are responsible for training around 300 players.

China’s women’s football team will play the home leg of its Tokyo 2020 play-off against South Korea abroad. China Daily reported that the Chinese Football Association, which had initially planned to host the game in Japan, will have to find a different location to host the game scheduled for March 11, after Japan tightened restrictions on those from the Hubei and Zhejiang provinces.

Three qualifiers for the Fiba Asia Cup have been postponed. The Philippines clash with Thailand – due to be played in Quezon City on February 20 – and Japan’s game against China – scheduled for February 21 in Chiba – are the latest games to be postponed. Fiba had already postponed China’s game versus Japan on February 24, which was to be played in Foshan.

Video Game company Blizzard announced that its Overwatch League 2020 (OWL) matches due to take place in China in February and March, which were recently postponed, will now be held in Seoul, South Korea. The matches were originally to take place in Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Hangzhou. They will be played during the sixth and seventh weeks of OWL, on the weekends of March 14-15 and 21-22. The rest of the schedule remains unchanged.

Other esports leagues impacted by the coronavirus include the League of Legends Pro League in China, which has postponed matches indefinitely. The League of Legends Champions Korea is also currently playing games without spectators present.