The 2022 Asian Games, due to take place in Hangzhou in September, have been postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic situation in China, organisers said on Friday. The new dates will be announced at a later stage, the Olympic Council of Asia said in a release on its website.
China is battling a resurgence of coronavirus cases, said to be its largest outbreak of Covid-19 since the early days of the pandemic.
"Following detailed discussions with the Chinese Olympic Committee (COC) and the Hangzhou Asian Games Organising Committee (HAGOC), the OCA Executive Board (EB) today decided to postpone the 19th Asian Games, which were scheduled to be held in Hangzhou, China, from 10 to 25 September 2022. HAGOC has been very well prepared to deliver the Games on time despite global challenges. However, the above decision was taken by all the stakeholders after carefully considering the pandemic situation and the size of the Games," the statement said.
The delay of the 19th Asian Games will affect the 2024 Paris Olympic cycle, which has already been shortened due to the pandemic-forced postponement of the Tokyo Olympics from 2020 to 2021.
The Asiad is an Olympic qualifier in sports like hockey, where the winner gets a direct entry to the Games. The new dates will likely be a challenge as the 2023 sports calendar is also packed with Olympic qualifiers for all sports with the Paris Games the following year.
Reacting to the development, Indian men's hockey team goalkeeper PR Sreejesh said they were not taken aback by the announcement.
"Yes, it's a disappointment but somewhere down the line we were expecting it considering the situation in China," he told PTI.
"But we want to look at it (postponement) from positive point of view because the postponement means we will get more time to prepare for the Asian Games. We already have the experience of playing in a postponed Games (Tokyo Olympics), so we know what it takes to remain in shape.
"The positive part is that there are plenty of tournaments lined-up for us like the Asia Cup, away Pro League matches, Commonwealth Games and World Cup next year. The dates of the postponed Asian Games are yet to be announced, so we will get enough time to prepare our best for the Asian Games," Sreejesh said.
The postponement also opened up the doors for members of both the senior men and women teams to participate in the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, where India had earlier decided to send its reserve hockey sides due to short turnaround between the two events.
A Hockey India official said now that the Asian Games had been postponed, the main team players can be considered for the Birmingham CWG as the squads are yet to be announced.
"We still don't know what will happen because the postponement came as a shock to us. Earlier, we decided to send separate teams for CWG and Asiad because of just 32 days turnaround between the two events and we wanted our main team to peak in Asian Games, which is a qualifier for Paris Olympics," the official told PTI.
"But now that the Asian Games are postponed we can include players from the senior teams in CWG. It is too early to say anything because we will need to look at the fresh dates of the Asian Games and then adjust our calendar accordingly."
Meanwhile, Indian track and field athletes and national federation officials reacted with a sense of relief after hearing the news of the postponement.
"It's good. How many times an athlete can peak in a year? There is CWG, World Championships and then Asian Games and the athletes need to produce peak performances. It's difficult for them," Athletics Federation of India President Adille Sumariwalla told PTI.
Indian athletics chief coach Radhakrishnan Nair said the athletes were prepared for the Hangzhou Asian Games but the postponement should lesson their workload this season.
"It is the most difficult year in my coaching career with three big events lining up. We had made plans in a very different way this year. We had athletes (like Jinson Johnson) who will compete only in Asian Games and we had others like Neeraj Chopra and Avinash Sable who will compete in CWG, World Championships and Asian Games. So, we were prepared for the Asian Games. But, now that the Asian Games are postponed, our athletes can focussed on CWG and World Championships," Nair said.
National record holder long-jumper M Sreeshankar also felt that the postponement of the Asian Games will lessen his workload.
"This will lessen the workload. It's difficult to peak again and again in a short span of time. I can now focus on CWG and World Championships."
Jinson Johnson, who won gold in 1500m in 2018 Asian Games, has a different view. "I am a bit disappointed. I was not competing for two years after the last Asian Games. I came back this year and won a medal in the Federation Cup (in March). So, I was looking ahead and preparing for the Asian Games. I don't know when the Hangzhou Asian Games will be held. You don't know what will happen in future."
Esports athletes from India who qualified for the Asian Games also reacted to the news, saying they are disappointed with the postponement, but it gives them more time to prepare for the event.
"All of us athletes are gutted by the news of the postponement of the Asian Games, but we'll continue to give our everything in practice leading up to the tournament. The postponement gives us more time to practice and get better for the Asian games," said FIFA22 athlete Charanjot Singh.
Akshaj Shenoy, captain of Team India League of Legends said, "I would like to wish China a speedy recovery and hope the situation doesn't worsen for them. It deeply saddens me to know that the Asian Games has been postponed but on the bright side, we can use the extra months of practice and come back stronger and give them a mightier battle."
The host city of Hangzhou lies near the country's biggest city, Shanghai, which has been in a weeks-long lockdown as part of the country's response to the resurgence of cases. Additionally, the OCA EB also cancelled the 3rd Asian Youth Games, which was scheduled for 20-28 December this year in Shantou, China.