The Asian Games due to take place in the Chinese city of Hangzhou in September have been postponed indefinitely because of Covid-19, organisers said on Friday.
The Games were scheduled to be held from September 10 to 25 but have now been delayed as China tries to stamp out a large resurgence in infections in several parts of the country.
Hangzhou lies less than 200 kilometres from 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.
The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) said in a statement that the decision to postpone “was taken by all the stakeholders after carefully considering the pandemic situation and the size of the Games”.
New dates for the Games, which typically attract more than 10,000 athletes from across the region, will be announced “in the near future”, the statement said.
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 event under a virus control plan that “learns from the successful experience” of the Beijing Winter Olympics, which were held in February in a strict 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.
The OCA also said that the Asian Youth Games, scheduled to be held in December in the Chinese city of Shantou, would be cancelled having already been postponed once.
The World University Games, scheduled to begin next month in Chengdu and already delayed from last year, are also expected to be postponed.
Almost all international sport has grind to a halt in China since Covid emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.
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 city or have contact with the 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 Chinese 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 25m people have seethed under a patchwork of lockdowns since March amid complaints of overzealous lockdown measures and spartan quarantine conditions.