Asian Weightlifting Championships Postponed; Olympics May Prohibit Spectators

More developments in the effect of the coronavirus on sporting events

Two developments in the coronavirus outbreak surfaced late this week.

The Asian Weightlifting Championships Postponed

First up, the Asian Weightlifting Championships have been postponed. Originally scheduled to take place in Uzbekistan from April 16 to 25, the IWF posted the following announcement on Friday:

Because of the global spread of the Coronavirus and travel restrictions implemented by many countries around the World, the Local Organizing Committee decided to postpone the Asian Championships, that was due to be held 16-25 April in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, to a yet unknown date.

At last year’s Asian Championships, world records were set by Shi Zhiyong (-73kg, 168kg snatch), Rim Jong-sim (-76kg, 278kg total) and Li Wenwen (+87kg, 147kg snatch), which still stand today.

This news comes a little over a week after the East Asian Weightlifting Championships were postponed for the same reasons. (The Asian Championships at least got more than a month’s notice; the news about the East Asian Championships came just one day before they were slated to begin on February 27.) Note that the IWF’s announcement about this event used the word “postponed,” but the IWF’s calendar says it has been outright canceled. 

Later that week, the IWF Junior World Weightlifting Championships, scheduled for March 14-21, were also canceled.


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Other Sporting Events Are Being Canceled

Pressure to cancel, or at least consider canceling the Olympics has been mounting as sporting events continue to be canceled in order to avoid crowding large numbers of people into congested, indoor spaces. We’re not just talking about the Arnold Sports Festival, perhaps the largest strength sports festival on Earth, which prohibited hundreds of thousands of spectators and vendors in a decision made some 36 hours before the festival began on Thursday. 

Spectators have been prohibited from the International Biathlon Union’s World Cup, which began on Thursday in Prague, and in Italy — where coronavirus deaths have exceed 100 — the country’s top soccer league will play matches in empty stadiums for at least the next three weeks. Premier League soccer clubs in England are now avoiding the traditional “fair-play” handshakes and are planning to start prohibiting spectators as well. In golf, the European Tour event in Nairobi and the Asian Tour’s Royal’s Cup 2020 in Thailand have been postponed indefinitely. The World Athletics Indoor Championships in China have been canceled.

Green Day has canceled their tour dates in Asia.

South By Southwest canceled their giant tech conference in Austin next week.

Even the new James Bond movie’s release date got postponed from April to November. 


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But What About the Olympics? 

But, as The New York Times puts it, the biggest question on the 2020 sports calendar is the Olympics.

Officials have thus far given no indication they are planning on moving the dates or the location, even though Japan has particularly high rates of infection with some reports putting the number at 5,948. Japan has also controversially responded to the outbreak by temporarily nullifying 2.8 million visas held by Chinese and 17,000 held by South Korean citizens.

The International Olympic Committee technically has permission in their contract to postpone the Olympics to another time in 2020, though reps have said there are no plans to: it starts in Tokyo on July 24 or it doesn’t happen. At least, that was the party line a week ago, but the New York Times has a new report on a two-hour phone call between the World Health Organization and dozens of medical officers who work for the sports federations that run competitions at the Olympics.

The phone call isn’t public and sources only gave this info anonymously, but it states:

Holding fan-free competitions, with only sports officials and broadcasters as spectators, was one of a number of options suggested for managing large sporting events in the weeks and months before the Games.

It appears this might depend on the sport, which have different risk profiles for indoor and outdoor events, contact and non-contact sports, etc.

Note that the WHO, which won’t call the virus a pandemic but does say that countries should be in a ‘state of preparedness’ for a pandemic, aren’t in the position to cancel or postpone the Olympics. They’re providing guidance and direction to the IOC. But the IOC’s President Thomas Bach said they would follow the WHO’s guidance. 

Bach reiterated on Wednesday that they hadn’t even mentioned the words “cancellation” or “postponement” during two days of meetings in Switzerland. However, it’s a little unclear as to whether the IOC can cancel the Games, with Japan recently stating that as long as Tokyo held the Games in 2020, the IOC could not cancel them. 

Things are foggy, to say the least. We’ll report back with any new developments.

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