With zero Covid, China is isolating itself from the sports planet

Before the pandemic, the country had gained momentum since the 2000s, hosting a Formula 1 Grand Prix in Shanghai, the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, several world championships or tennis tournaments.

But with the exception of the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games, which were hosted in a health bubble in February-March, China has not hosted a major international competition since the start of the epidemic. The reason ? She wants to prevent epidemic outbreaks at all costs.

The latest victim of this policy: the Asian Games, a major continental omni sports event initially scheduled for September 10-25 in Hangzhou (East), the indefinite postponement of which was announced on Friday due to “the health situation”.

China has been living normally since the spring of 2020, thanks to its zero Covid strategy consisting of confinements, quarantines on arrival in the territory, the isolation of infected people and the virtual closure of borders. But the country has been facing an epidemic resurgence since March that affects several provinces.

In addition to the Asian Games, the Asian Youth Games, which were to take place in the southern Chinese city of Shantou in December, were also canceled on Friday.

The 2021 Summer Universiade, the University Sports Olympics that was first postponed to the summer of 2022, has been postponed to 2023.

Finally, the two Diamond League athletics meetings scheduled for Shanghai (July 30) and Shenzhen (August 6) will not take place, organizers announced on Friday.

Empty calendar

The health bubble of the Olympic and Paralympic Games — where participants took a daily Covid test and couldn’t mingle with the general population — now seems more the exception than the rule.

The Games “were a huge political priority and nothing could stop them,” China-based sports analyst Mark Dreyer told AFP.

“The Asian Games are a big event. But not big enough’ to last, he believes. According to him, the international sports calendar will remain empty of events in China as long as the Covid zero lasts.

The FIFA Club World Cup, scheduled for 2021 in China, has already been postponed. The Shanghai GP and the tennis tournaments for men (ATP) and women (WTA) have already been cancelled.

Repeated Covid tests, precautions to be taken before departure, isolation if they test positive: athletes are exposed to various restrictions anyway when they come to compete in China.

However, it would be “no problem” for China to apply today for future sporting events to be held “when the pandemic is under control,” a Chinese expert estimates.

“It is very good that the government is strictly controlling outbreaks. If the foreigners don’t understand that, too bad,” he said anonymously for fear of possible reprisals.

“not worth it”

But for Mark Dreyer, this lack of visibility annoys international sports organizations. “At some point they will say, ‘Sorry, but you can’t continue to postpone events, because the Covid is not a valid reason'”.

But the idea that the sports movement is suddenly turning away from China’s huge and enticing market “isn’t very realistic,” said Du Liyan, an influential sports blogger. “This market is still very large. And the sports sector (..) is showing significant growth. †

However, politics, which regularly deals with sports matters, can be a barrier. The WTA suspended its tournaments in China in late 2021 after former player Peng Shuai accused a former senior Chinese official, with whom she was in a romantic relationship, of forcing her hand to have sex.