China announced on Thursday (January 30) the suspension of all domestic football and postponed indefinitely the top-flight Chinese Super League (CSL) season in response to the deadly coronavirus outbreak sweeping the country.
The CSL 2020 campaign had been due to kick off on February 22, but was shelved along with “all types of football matches” in order to “carry out prevention and control of the pneumonia epidemic,” said a Chinese Football Association statement.
The announcement comes just a few hours after the World Indoor Athletics Championships, scheduled to take place in the Chinese city of Nanjing in March, were postponed until 2021 after advice from the World Health Organisation.
Football is fanatically followed in the world’s most populous nation with cash-rich clubs importing expensive foreign signings such as Brazilians Hulk and Oscar, and Argentina’s Carlos Tevez in recent years.
It becomes the latest sport to be hit by the virus which by Thursday had seen more than 7,700 cases confirmed in China with at least 170 fatalities.
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The virus has spread from the epicentre of Wuhan to more that 15 countries, with about 60 cases in Asia, Europe, North America and, most recently, the Middle East.
On Wednesday (January 29), World Cup skiing races, the first test events for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, were cancelled because of the outbreak.
The men’s downhill and super-G races were scheduled for February 15 and February 16 in Yanqing, 70 kilometres (45 miles) northwest of Beijing.
World Cup qualifying
In Australia, China’s women’s football team has been quarantined in a Brisbane hotel after arriving for an Olympic qualifying competition which had been originally due to take place in Wuhan.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on Wednesday ordered all four Chinese clubs’ first three fixtures in the continent’s Champions League’s group stage in February and March to be played away from home.
The AFC said the decision was a “precautionary measure to ensure the safety and well-being of all participating players and teams”.
The decision to quarantine the national women’s team “was pre-planned”, a top Asian football official said on Thursday.
The event, which also involves Australia, Taiwan, and Thailand, was on Sunday moved to Sydney, with matches scheduled to be played next week.
The CFA said any decision on postponing or moving international fixtures would be made at a later date.
“The CFA will continue to maintain close communication with national authorities, and decide each event’s timing separately based on the actual development of the epidemic situation in each locality,” the statement said.
China is due to host the Maldives in a World Cup qualifying match on March 26 and travel to Guam for another qualifier on March 31.
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Windsor John, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) general secretary, said that the move to quarantine China’s women’s team was planned by the Chinese Football Association (CFA) and Australian authorities. “It is to allow for a two-week quarantine and it will be ending on the day of the first match. No drama to this. It was pre-planned,” he told AFP.
Queensland state chief health officer Jeannette Young said no one from the group, reportedly 32-strong including officials and staff, had shown any symptoms and that the quarantine was a precautionary measure.
China is due to play their first match against Thailand on February 3.
John said the CFA’s move to suspend all domestic football would not affect the AFC Champions League group stages as the Chinese clubs would now play their first three fixtures in February and March away from home.
“We have swapped the matches. There will be no impact since all home games re played away now,” the AFC secretary-general said.
Earlier this month the International Tennis Federation moved next week’s Fed Cup’s Asia/Oceania Group I event from Dongguan, southern China, to Kazakhstan on February 4-8. The Asian indoor athletics championships planned for February 12-13 in Hangzhou have also been cancelled.
(With inputs from agencies)