Skip to content

Zero COVID-19 Policy | China isolates itself from the sports world

(Beijing) Asian Games, athletics meetings, Summer Universiade: the cancellation or postponement of major international meetings further isolates from the world sports scene a China which prefers to close down to apply its zero COVID-19 policy .

Posted at 9:49

Matthew WALSH
France Media Agency

Before the pandemic, the country had gained momentum since the 2000s, organizing a Formula 1 Grand Prix in Shanghai, the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, various world championships or tennis tournaments.

But with the exception of the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, organized in February-March in a health bubble, China has not hosted any major international competition since the start of the epidemic.

The reason ? She wants to avoid epidemic outbreaks at all costs.

Last event victim of this policy: the Asian Games, a major continental omnisports meeting initially scheduled for September 10 to 25 in Hangzhou, whose postponement sine die was announced on Friday due to “the health situation”.

China has been living normally since the spring of 2020, thanks to its zero COVID-19 strategy which consists of confinements, quarantines on arrival in the territory, the isolation of infected people and the virtual closure of borders.

But the country has been facing an epidemic resurgence since March that affects several provinces.

In addition to the Asian Games, Friday also saw the cancellation of the Asian Youth Games, which were due to take place in December in the Chinese city of Shantou.

The 2021 Summer Universiade, the University Sports Olympics already postponed for the first time to the summer of 2022, has been postponed to 2023.

Finally, the two Diamond League athletics meetings scheduled in Shanghai (July 30) and Shenzhen (August 6) will not take place, organizers announced on Friday.

Empty calendar

The Olympic and Paralympic Games health bubble — where participants took a daily COVID-19 test and couldn’t mix with the general population — now seems more of an exception than the rule.

The Games “were a huge political priority and nothing could stop them,” China-based sports analyst Mark Dreyer told AFP.

“The Asian Games are a big event. But not big enough” to be maintained, he believes.

According to him, the international sports calendar will remain empty of events in China as long as the zero COVID-19 lasts.

The FIFA Club World Cup, scheduled for 2021 in China, had already been postponed. The Shanghai GP and the men’s (ATP) and women’s (WTA) tennis tournaments were already canceled.

Repeated COVID-19 tests, precautions to take before departure, placement in solitary confinement if they test positive: athletes are exposed to several constraints anyway if they come to compete in China.

However, there would be “no problem” for China to apply today for future sporting events to be organized “when the pandemic is under control”, estimates a Chinese expert.

“It is very good that the government strictly controls outbreaks. If foreign countries don’t understand that, too bad,” he told AFP anonymously for fear of possible reprisals.

“Not worth it”

But for Mark Dreyer, this lack of visibility annoys international sports organizations.

“At some point, they’re going to say, ‘Sorry, but you can’t keep postponing events, because COVID-19 is not a valid reason’.”

But the idea that the sports movement is suddenly turning away from the huge and attractive Chinese market “is not very realistic”, Du Liyan, an influential sports blogger, told AFP.

“This market is still very big. And the sports sector (…) is showing considerable growth. »

However, politics, which is regularly involved in sports affairs, can be a foil.

The WTA suspended its tournaments in China at the end of 2021 after former player Peng Shuai accused a former senior Chinese official, with whom she had a romantic relationship, of forcing her hand to obtain sex.

The NBA basketball championship matches, which are very popular in China, have been deprogrammed by public television since a senior franchise official sent a tweet of support to Hong Kong protesters in 2019.

“Increasingly, some consider that China is not worth going to so much trouble,” said Mark Dreyer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.