The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced on Tuesday that it had postponed matches featuring Chinese clubs for the first three matchdays of the Asian Champions league due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Games involving Beijing FC, Shanghai Shenhua, Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai SIPG have been moved from dates in mid-February and early March to April and May. The match between Thailand's Chiangrai United and Beijing FC is to go ahead on February 18 as the Chinese team is training in South Korea and doesn't require quarantine measures.
The decision came following an emergency meeting on Tuesday in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital. Officials agreed to reassess the situation 21 days before each future matchday. If it is determined that a match cannot go ahead as planned, the home side is to propose a neutral venue no later than 14 days before the game is scheduled.
"We came together in difficult circumstances to find solutions to allow us to play football while ensuring we protect the safety and security of all players, officials, stakeholders and fans," said AFC General Secretary Dato' Windsor John following the meeting.
"We also accept that this coronavirus is a much bigger issue than just football, and we wish all those who have been affected a speedy return to health."
Last week, the AFC had already changed the original match schedule to allow the Chinese clubs to play their first three matches away from home. However, some countries, including Australia, have since imposed travel restrictions, which made it impossible for them to play the rearranged games.
The coronavirus outbreak has also forced the indefinite postponement of the Chinese Super Cup, originally scheduled to take place on January 25, and the start of the Chinese Super League season, which was set to start on February 22. Meanwhile, the AFC Olympic women's qualifying tournament has been moved from Wuhan to Australia.
The impact beyond football
The outbreak also has affected scheduling in the world of sports beyond football.
The World Indoor Athletics Championships, which had been due to be hosted by Nanjing in mid-March, has been postponed until next year. Chinese officials have also pulled the national women's handball team out of an Olympic qualifying tournament in Budapest next month
Meanwhile, Formula One teams are to meet on Wednesday to discuss the fate of the Shanghai Grand Prix, scheduled for April 19. On Sunday, the FIA, motor racing's world governing body, postponed the Chinese Formula E Grand Prix set for March 21 in Sanya.
Tokyo Olympics still on
Despite the spread of the coronavirus, organizers of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have both dismissed rumors that the Summer Games could be canceled or postponed.
"We have never discussed canceling the Games," the local organizers said in a statement to the German news agency DPA last Friday. "Tokyo 2020 will continue to collaborate with the IOC and relevant organizations and will review any countermeasures that may be necessary."
The IOC said preparations were continuing as planned. The Olympics are scheduled to begin on July 24.
pfd/dv (dpa, AP)