— Published 30 November 2021

Winter University Games and World Squash Championships first victims of the Omicron variant

History is repeating itself. It does not bode well. Within a few hours of each other, on Monday 29 November, two events on the international sporting calendar were wiped off the map. Both were cancelled. A scenario that recalls the dark memories of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, in early 2020.

The International University Sports Federation (FISU) opened the series early this evening by announcing the cancellation of the Winter University Games. It was due to take place from 11 to 21 December 2021 in Lucerne, Switzerland. Initially scheduled for the beginning of the year, it had already been postponed once.

Two hours later, the International Squash Federation (World Squash) announced the cancellation of the men’s world championships. They were due to be held from 7 to 12 December in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Like the Winter University, there is no question of a postponement. The competition will not take place.

In both cases, the reason is the same: the variant Omicron. World Squash explains that its emergence, and the travel and visa restrictions imposed in a growing number of countries, would prevent all nations from participating in the men’s World Championships.

FISU, for its part, explains that “restrictions on international arrivals have been announced by the Swiss authorities in respect of a number of countries where the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been identified. Many more restrictions are expected in the coming days. Similar restrictions are also being announced by national authorities in other countries, and the first case involving the Omicron variant has already been identified in Switzerland.”

Leonz Eder, FISU’s acting president, admits: “This decision was taken with a very heavy heart. But the new travel restrictions mean that the organisation of the event is now impossible.”

FISU says: The Swiss federal government has adopted restrictions on foreign travel for a large number of countries, placed on a quarantine list. These measures have already been applied in the case of delegations to the Winter University. A number of delegations would have had to undergo a 10-day quarantine. This would not have been completed before the start of the first competitions.

The forthcoming travel restrictions would also have had an impact on the staff required for certain aspects of the event, including timing, refereeing or TV production.

Holding the event in December was already a plan B,” explained Eric Saintrond, FISU Executive Director and General Secretary. A further postponement was therefore not an option.”

Question: what will be next? Which other bodies will follow suit by announcing cancellations or postponements? The answers should come soon. The reasons put forward by World Squash and FISU – quarantine, travel and visa restrictions, border closures – do not only concern Malaysia and Switzerland. Japan has already announced that it has closed its borders to non-Japanese visitors. Other countries will follow.

The international sports calendar, which has been shaken to the core for almost two years, is in danger of being postponed and cancelled again.

Will the Beijing Winter Games be able to go ahead? At this stage of preparation, with less than 70 days to go before the opening (D-66 on Tuesday 30 November), there is some doubt.

The Chinese organisers have still not specified the sanitary measures that will be imposed on the accredited participants, apart from the obligation to be vaccinated, on pain of having to undergo 21 days of isolation, and the installation of a hermetic bubble. Nor have they officially announced whether the competitions will be attended by spectators.

One thing is certain: the emergence of the Omicron variant adds to the confusion. It could disrupt the winter sports seasons, which have already begun in a number of disciplines, with upcoming competitions crucial for Olympic qualification and selection. The 2022 Winter Games in Beijing may be fast approaching, but they still seem a long way off.