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Indoor athletics championships in China postponed a year, latest in series of events affected by virus

Six months before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the spread of a new virus in China has thrown a wrench into competitive plans for Canadian track and field athletes.

Canadian Olympic hopefuls missing out on valuable opportunities to qualifying

The world indoor track and field championships, scheduled to be held in China in March, have been postponed because of concern over coronavirus. (AFP via Getty Images)

Six months before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the spread of a new virus in China has thrown a wrench into competitive plans for Canadian track and field athletes.

Amid growing concern about the new coronavirus that had killed 132 people as of Wednesday, the indoor world athletics championships March 13-15 in Nanjing, China have been postponed by a year. The championships are one of several international sports and Olympic qualifying tournaments that have been either postponed, cancelled or moved elsewhere.

Simon Nathan, Athletics Canada's high performance director, said Canada expected to field a team of about 20 in Nanjing, including decathlete Pierce LePage, pole vaulters Alysha Newman and Shawn Barber, thrower Brittany Crew, high jumper Mike Mason and middle-distance runners Gabriela DeBues-Stafford and Melissa Bishop, and a women's 4x400 relay team.

Nathan said athletes most affected, however, would be those on the bubble for Olympic qualifying. While athletes can qualify by achieving a time or height or distance, the remaining spots in events will be filled through a complicated world ranking points system.

"And there were huge bonus points for the world indoor championships," Nathan said. "And so people will miss out on the opportunity."

The governing body of athletics said the indoor worlds will now be held in March 2021 instead of March 13-15 this year.

Long list of cancelled events

With the Olympics opening in late July, Nathan said Canada's track and field athletes would plan to peak in both March and then at the Olympics. He said advisers, including the team's head coach Glenroy Gilbert, would meet individually with the athletes who had planned to compete in Nanjing, which is 530 kilometres from Wuhan, where the virus emerged.

"If they need to refocus or redo that, we'll try and find different competitions for each of them, but they'll likely be spread out rather than in one place, which is what would have happened at the world indoors," he said.

The international ski federation cancelled the first World Cup races scheduled for the mountain venue where the sport will be held during the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

In alpine skiing, a men's downhill had been scheduled for Feb. 15 in Yanqing to start a two-race weekend.

"Due to the outbreak and continuing spread of the Novel Coronavirus, FIS, the Chinese Ski Association and its Yanqing Local Organizing Committee, have jointly decided to cancel," FIS said in a statement.

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The ski federation said it would advise later if the downhill and super-G races will be rescheduled.

That followed a decision by the international field hockey federation to postpone Pro League games in China. Qualifying tournaments for the Tokyo Olympics in soccer, basketball and boxing scheduled for next month have been moved outside of the country.

The biggest upcoming event in China is the Formula One race in Shanghai on April 19, which draws large crowds both for the race and for practice and qualifying.

Olympic qualifying events have been affected in recent days. Women's soccer and women's basketball games were moved to Australia and Serbia. The soccer games had already previously moved from Wuhan, at the centre of the outbreak, to Nanjing. Boxing tournaments for the Asia and Oceania regions will be held in Jordan in March.

Tokyo Olympics offer generic statement

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike acknowledged her concern about the virus when speaking Wednesday to the heads of 62 municipalities.

"With only 177 days to go and our preparations accelerating, we must firmly tackle the new coronavirus to contain it, or we are going to regret it," Koike said. "I will do the utmost to contain this new problem as we co-operate closely with all of you."

Tokyo Olympic organizers put out a generic statement on Wednesday and offered no details.

"Countermeasures against infectious diseases constitute an important part of our plans to host a safe and secure games," the statement said, adding they would "carefully monitor any incidence of infectious diseases and we will review any countermeasures that may be necessary with all relevant organizations."

More than 130 deaths in China have been recorded because of the disease, including the first in Beijing. On Wednesday, the number of total cases jumped to 5,974.

Cases have been reported in Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, the United States, Australia, Canada and Germany.

Wuhan in lockdown

The coronavirus family includes the common cold but also more severe illnesses. It causes cold- and flu-like symptoms, and in more severe cases, shortness of breath and pneumonia. The virus is thought to have spread to people from wild animals sold at a market in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people which is now in lockdown.

Future sports events in China also include a World Cup soccer qualifying game on March 26 against Maldives, and the China Open golf tournament, part of the European Tour, on April 23-26 in Shenzhen.

Also Wednesday, Danish soccer club Aalborg said it had decided not to play a friendly against Chinese team Wuhan Zall in Spain.

"We are aware that the risk of infection may be microscopic, and little is still known about the virus, but in consultation with the [club], management, staff and the health sector, we have agreed not to expose anyone," Aalborg managing director Thomas Baelum said.

With files from The Associated Press

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