After Winter Olympics, China withdraws from sports hosting under ‘zero-COVID’ policy

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May 20 (Reuters) – Months after staging a Winter Olympics as memorable for its extreme anti-COVID-19 measures as the competition, China has all but given up on hosting international sporting events as it battles new outbreaks in key cities.

China on Sunday handed over its rights to host next year’s Asian Cup, the continent’s biggest soccer showpiece, a move that came just over a week after it postponed the Games asian multisports in 2023. read more

High-level athletics, figure skating and an X Games event have been moved or canceled in recent months, leaving China’s once-busy international calendar looking worn out.

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Sporting events still nominally on the calendar appear on increasingly shaky ground as China sticks to its “zero-COVID” strategy while much of the rest of the world returns to normal life.

The Zhuhai Open tennis tournament has been canceled for the past two years but remains scheduled for late September along with three other ATP events in China.

Peter Johnston, the tournament’s executive director, said a decision should be made soon whether to go ahead.

“It is certainly coming at the critical moment right now,” he told Reuters.

“There is a real feeling of wanting us to play after a two-year hiatus, but there has to be a call very, very soon.”

China’s withdrawal from hosting events goes against its ambitions to turn sports into a 5 trillion yuan ($747 billion) industry by 2025, a 70% increase compared to 2019 levels.

Last August, as China relished a successful Olympics for its athletes in the postponed Tokyo Games, authorities released a national fitness program with targets to build or renovate thousands of sports venues and fitness centers. training, and to “strengthen international exchanges”.

“TOO EXTREME”

China showed it could safely host big events during the pandemic at the “closed-loop” Beijing Winter Games, which kept Games athletes and staff isolated from the public.

The authorities have not indicated their willingness to do the same for less publicized events.

Johnston said it was “potentially feasible” to hold his tournament on a closed loop, but enforcing a mandatory quarantine for those who tested positive for COVID-19 would be difficult for some players to accept.

“Really, that’s when you get pushed back by the (tennis) tours saying it’s a bit too extreme to ask players to potentially stay out of tournament time in a setting. quarantine,” he said.

“That makes it difficult to do it in China at the moment.”

While tournament organizers and event planners could face other headaches as China adheres to a zero-COVID strategy, digital sports marketers said demand for sports content remains strong in the country.

“The lockdown restrictions have led to a pivot towards more activities at home, including watching live sports,” said Justin Tan, managing director of Mailman China, a global digital sports agency headquartered in Beijing. Shanghai.

“On the one hand, we miss the physical proximity to the biggest stars and teams in world sport.

“On the other hand, we have had the opportunity, successfully, to create new experiences for fans here, enabled and powered by digital connectivity and new technologies.”

($1 = 6.6893 Chinese yuan renminbi)

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Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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