LONDON (Reuters) - The European, Americas and final world qualifying boxing tournaments for the Tokyo Olympic Games were suspended on Monday after falling victim to the coronavirus outbreak sweeping the globe.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC), whose Boxing Task Force (BTF) is organising the events after the suspension last year of world body AIBA, acted as countries went into lockdown and sport ground to a halt.
The Americas and final world tournaments have yet to happen but the 10-day European event at London’s Copper Box, on the site of the 2012 Olympics, was already into its third day of competition.
Sixteen male boxers, flyweights and featherweights, still managed to secure their tickets to Tokyo before the shutdown came into force at the end of Monday’s evening session.
British flyweight Galal Yafai was the first to qualify, even if the Games’ July 24 starting date is looking increasingly uncertain.
Yafai beat Russia’s Rasul Saliev to reach the quarter-finals, with a guaranteed Tokyo slot for the last eight in the division, and was followed by top-seeded Frenchman Billal Bennama.
“With everything that’s gone on this week outside of boxing, it’s great to just get it done,” Yafai, who fought at the 2016 Rio Games, told the BBC.
“I put it to the back of my mind this week, but just before the fight I was told that the competition would end after today, so I was thinking ‘oh gosh, I need to make sure I win’.”
The BTF had already closed the doors to spectators after Sunday’s sessions.
Africa, Asia and Oceania have held their qualifying tournaments while the Americas one scheduled for Buenos Aires on March 26-April 3 was postponed last week. The final worlds were due in Paris on May 13-20.
The Asia and Oceania event was held in Amman, Jordan, this month after being moved from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the epicentre of the coronavirus epidemic.
The task force said it would provide details on the qualification process for the other regions at a later date.
“The BTF...took the decision to suspend the event today, amid increasing global travel restrictions and quarantine measures, in order to allow the participants from over 60 countries to adjust their travel plans and return home,” the IOC said in a statement.
“The BTF will continue to evaluate the situation daily, aiming to complete the distribution of the remaining Tokyo 2020 boxing quota places in May and June.”
“The BTF’s priority remains the qualification of athletes on the field of play, and it will inform all stakeholders as soon as more information is available,” it said.
The IOC will hold talks with heads of international sports organisations on Tuesday in response to the coronavirus outbreak and will also hold an unscheduled Executive Board teleconference to discuss the latest developments.
Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Ken Ferris