— Published 9 May 2022

In China, sport remains blocked at the borders

The series is spectacular. It is reminiscent of the darkest hours of the year 2020. In the space of a few hours, at the end of last week, China struck a generous handful of major sporting events scheduled to take place on its soil in the coming months from its calendar.

It did so bluntly, announcing without really saying so that, with the Beijing 2022 Winter Games now a thing of the past, it could disappear from the international sporting landscape until further notice.

The most expected announcement surprised no one. It concerns the major event planned for this year in China, after the Winter Games: the Asian Games. The state-run CCTV reported on its Weibo account that they would not be held next September in Hangzhou, less than 200 km southwest of Shanghai.

The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) has announced that the 19th Asian Games, originally scheduled to be held from September 10 to 25, 2022, are postponed, CCTV said on the Chinese social network. The new dates will be announced at a later date.

The OCA confirmed the information in a statement, justifying the decision by “the health situation” in China. Initially, the Chinese organisers had assured that the Asian Games would go ahead as planned despite the surge in cases of COVID-19. They explained that they were planning to set up a hermetic bubble similar to that of the Beijing Winter Games.

But the Chinese authorities no longer seem as ready to make the same efforts and resources available for the Asian event and other smaller competitions as they did for the last Winter Olympics.

This is demonstrated by the OCA’s other announcement: the pure and simple cancellation of the Asian Youth Games. Postponed for the first time, they were due to take place next December in the Chinese city of Shantou.

Another postponement, just as expected, is the World University Summer Games. They were scheduled for 26 June to 7 July in Chengdu. The body in charge of university sport, FISU, announced that they had been postponed to 2023.

The decision to reschedule Chengdu 2021 was not an easy one, but it is the right decision for university athletes, FISU said in a statement. The continued uncertainty over conditions made the postponement the wisest choice.

The rest is the same. China is sticking to its zero COVID strategy and is closing itself off from the international sports movement. It no longer tolerates the slightest exception. It is up to the international federations to adapt to its sanitary rules, by postponing them or by finding a plan B.

Example: World Athletics. The world athletics body has announced a new calendar for the Diamond League, its first circuit of one-day meetings. Sponsored since the 2020 edition by the Chinese conglomerate Wanda, for a period of ten years, it had in its initial programme two stages in China: Shanghai on 30 July, then Shenzhen on 6 August. Both have been cancelled.

The first one disappears from the calendar for the year 2022. The second one is kept, but with a radical change of location. Instead of discovering Shenzhen, the athletes will set down their bags in Chorzow, Poland. The Kamila Skolimowska Memorial, a meeting originally on the Gold Continental Tour calendar, moves up one place to the Diamond League. It will take place on 6 August.

World Triathlon did not have the same resources. The world triathlon body announced over the weekend the cancellation of the two Chinese stages of the world circuit: the Championship Series in Chengdu and the World Triathlon Cup in Weihai. They were to be held in September and October 2022.

The rest of the event looks to be in the same vein. China is fading away, at least until next autumn. It leaves a great void.