On Wednesday, 22 January, the upcoming Olympic qualifiers for boxing (scheduled for 3-14 February) and women’s football (scheduled for 3-9 February) were moved out of Wuhan, China due to the outbreak of coronavirus. While women’s football qualifiers will stay in China — the Asian Football Confederation said that the event will be held in the eastern city of Nanjing on the same dates — the fate of boxing qualifiers is still not clear.
Wuhan, in fact, is being dubbed as the epicentre of this pneumonia-like virus, with the first death being reported early this month. At the time of writing, the outbreak has reportedly killed 17 people and has affected close to 600 — across China, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, and the United States. It has raised fears of a repeat of the SARS epidemic, which broke out in China in 2002 and 2003 and killed more than 800 people worldwide.
Here’s all you need to know about the scenario:
How serious is the situation?
In one word: Very. Even though the World Health Organisation (WHO) is yet to decide on declaring it a public health emergency, the scenario is scary enough for the Chinese authorities to shut down the city that houses 11 million people. This comes a day after the authorities had urged people not to travel to or from the Wuhan but had stopped short of shutting down transportation. The move is bound to affect travel plans of millions of Chinese in light of the upcoming Lunar New Year (25 January).
The shutdown came into effect from 10 am on 23 January, hours after Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang requested visitors to avoid the city and that residents stay put to try and contain the virus.
Public #transportation such as bus, subway, ferry and long-distance bus in Wuhan will be temporarily closed since 10am Thursday. All flights and trains departed from #Wuhan will be temporarily cancelled to reduce risk of spread of the new virus, local govt says. #coronavirus pic.twitter.com/gtzIlFszaf
— China Daily (@ChinaDaily) January 22, 2020
Given the situation, taking the Olympic qualifiers out of the city comes as a plausible solution.
Which events have been shifted out?
Wuhan was scheduled to host the Asia/Oceania round of Olympics qualifications from 3-14 February and Group B Asian women's football qualifiers Olympics qualifications from 3-9 February, involving China, Taiwan, Thailand and Australia. Even before the announcement about the postponement of the football qualifiers, Taiwan's football association had warned it would withdraw from the matches if they were held in Wuhan, saying that “the safety of players is our top priority”.
What is the future of events that have been shifted out?
The Asian Football Confederation said in a statement that the football event will be held on the same dates in the eastern city of Nanjing. It said the change was proposed by the Chinese Football Association.
The immediate future of the boxing event is still unclear. What is clear, though, that there won't be any qualifiers in Wuhan. The boxing qualifiers are being managed by the IOC Boxing Task Force (BTF) after AIBA was suspended for finance and governance issues last June following recommendations made by the IOC Executive Board.
"The IOC Boxing Task Force noted today's decision of the Local Organising Committee to cancel the Asian/Oceanian Tokyo 2020 boxing qualifying event which was due to take place in Wuhan (CHN) from 3-14 February 2020, amid growing concerns in relation to the coronavirus outbreak reported in the city," the BTF said in a statement on 22 January.
The Indian angle
While India did not make it to the Asian women's football qualifiers, the Asia/Oceania round of Olympics qualifications in boxing are being looked at with immense curiosity as it will decide India's representation in Tokyo 2020.
India's World Championships 2019 medallists in men's category — Amit Panghal (52kg) and Manish Kaushik (63kg) — got a direct ticket to the qualifiers, while pugilists in other categories underwent a selection trial to make the cut. Among women, the protracted bitter standoff involving the legendary Mary Kom, upcoming Nikhat Zareen and Boxing Federation of India (BFI) ended with a selection trial for all categories, following which the squad for the qualifiers was announced.
So far, only two Indians have won medals, both bronze, at the Olympics — Vijender Singh (75kg) at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and Mary Kom (51 kg) at London Olympics in 2012.
India's men’s squad for Asia-Oceania Olympic Qualifiers: Amit Panghal (52kg), Gaurav Solanki (57kg), Manish Kaushik (63 kg), Vikas Krishan (69kg), Ashish Kumar (75kg), Sachin Kumar (81kg), Naman Tanwar (91kg), Satish Kumar (+91kg).
India's women squad for Asia-Oceania Olympic Qualifiers: Mary Kom (51 kg), Sakshi Chaudhary (57kg), Simranjit Kaur (60kg), Lovlina Borgohain (69kg), Pooja Rani (75kg).
New Delhi to host Qualifiers?
Following the developments in Wuhan, the Boxing Federation of India (BFI) has expressed its interest in hosting the Asia-Oceania Olympic Qualifiers. BFI executive director RK Sacheti told Hindustan Times, “We had a long discussion with members of the (International Olympic Committee) task force on Tuesday over the issue and we have given them the option that Delhi can host it if the event is moved out of China.” Sacheti is part of an expert group set up to advise the task force, and hence his views are likely to carry significant weight. Should that happen, India can hope to send a sizeable boxing contingent to Tokyo, considering the home support in the national capital.
BFI president Ajay Chautala had, in May last year, pitched to host the qualifiers, and with Wuhan now ruled out, it would come as little surprise if New Delhi gets a go-ahead. The national capital also hosted the 2019 edition of AIBA women's world boxing championship, where Mary Kom won her historic sixth gold.
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Updated Date: Jan 23, 2020 15:51:56 IST