The 2020 IWF Junior World Championships Have Been Cancelled Due to Coronavirus Concerns

The IWF cited "many people from about 80 countries being in close proximity indoors" among other concerns

Two weeks before it was scheduled to take place, the 2020 International Weightlifting Federation Junior World Weightlifting Championships have been cancelled, with the outbreak and global spread of the coronavirus cited as the reason.

The announcement came on February 29, and the Junior World Championships were slated to take place in Bucharest, Romania From March 14 to 21.

The IWF’s communication reads (emphasis ours),

Throughout our planning for the IWF Junior World Weightlifting Championships 2020, as with any of our events, the health and wellbeing of participants has been a key priority. We have been diligent in seeking the best and latest advice in this regard.

The recent spreading of the Coronavirus (COVID19) worldwide has been high on our agenda and in the focus of our concern. At present, the risk to individual health remains low. In order to mitigate impacts, however, public health authorities and governments around the world have acted quickly to put in place measures designed to slow and prevent further spread. These variously include outbound travel advisories, inbound travel bans, quarantines and self-isolation measures.

Standing WHO advice is that in the case of major international sports events the individual characteristics of each event must be considered. A World Weightlifting Championships, such as the 2020 IWF JWC scheduled in Bucharest from 13 March, necessarily involves many people from about 80 countries being in close proximity indoors. Barbells and plates are touched by many hands. And in this case, the age of the athletes must also be considered. Furthermore, the extent and complexity of the public health measures being put in place is such that the IWF cannot be sure athletes of all nations would attend (or that if they did attend, they would be allowed to return home).

We have concluded extensive consultations, first of all of course, with the host Romanian Weightlifting Federation. After discussion and upon request of President Nicu Vlad of the Romanian Weightlifting Federation, the Executive Board has agreed to accept the cancellation of the 2020 IWF Junior World Championships in Bucharest, Romania as a precaution due to the ongoing development COVID19. The cancellation will include the Committee meetings and Congress as well.

Plates for weightlifting

USA Weightlifting’s CEO Phil Andrews made the following announcement in response,

USA Weightlifting puts its highest priority on our athletes’ health and safety. While we are disappointed that this talented Team USA will not be able to compete in Bucharest, we understand and respect the Romania Weightlifting Federation and International Weightlifting Federation’s decision to cancel the 2020 IWF Junior World Championships. For our Olympic-eligible athletes, we are exploring all options available to ensure this cancelation does not impact their qualification for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

This cancellation comes hot on the heels of the decision this week to “postpone” the first East Asian Weightlifting Championships, which were slated to begin on February 27 in South Korea. (The announcement was made on February 26.) Over 2,000 cases of the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19, have been reported in South Korea, and while the IWF only noted the East Asian Championships had been “postponed,” with a new date for the competition “yet unknown,” their calendar describes the event as cancelled.   

With two international weightlifting events canceled (or postponed) in one week, it’s fair to assume that some athletes may be concerned about the virus’s potential for canceling the Olympics themselves. 

Thus far, the International Olympic Committee has given no indication that this will be the case, with IOC member Dick Pound saying this week,

As far as we all know, you’re going to be in Tokyo. All indications are, at this stage, that it will be business as usual. So keep focused on your sport and be sure that the IOC is not going to send you into a pandemic situation.

He did also note that there’s no moving the date or location of the Olympics — they start on July 24 in Tokyo or they don’t — and also stated that, “if it gets to be something like the Spanish flu, at that level of lethality, then everybody’s got to take their medicine.”

The Spanish flu killed 50 million people worldwide after its 1918 outbreak. The COVID-19 outbreak began in Wuhan, China, and the vast majority of cases are in China. The day the IWF announced the cancellation of Junior Worlds, the World Health Organization‘s latest situational report noted:

  • There had been 85,403 confirmed cases worldwide
  • There had been 2,924 deaths worldwide
  • 1,753 new cases had been reported in the previous 24 hours
  • Cases had been reported in 53 countries (2 new in the last 24 hours)
  • 86 deaths (19 new) had occurred outside of China.

In China, the numbers were:

  • 79, 394 confirmed cases (435 in the previous 24 hours)
  •  2,838 deaths (47 in the previous 24 hours)

The same day Junior Worlds was canceled, health officials in Washington state confirmed the first death from coronavirus in the United States.

Although cases have spread to 53 countries, the WHO says it’s “too early” to call the outbreak a pandemic, but countries should be “in a phase of preparedness” for a pandemic just in case.