Asia’s indoor soccer championship in Turkmenistan was postponed on Monday because of the outbreak of a fast-spreading new virus which originated in China.
The virus is increasingly disrupting competitions outside of China. That includes events in countries which have reported no cases of the virus, such as the Central Asian state of Turkmenistan.
No news of of the postponement graced the pages of the Turkmen State News Agency. The agency did carry a report about President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov holding a workshop on the spread of infectious diseases, but it contains no direct mention of China, the new coronavirus or precautious the state has taken to prevent the possible spread of the virus to the country. Turkmen authorities have, however, recommended last week that its citizens refrain from travel to China.
The Asian Football Confederation said its decision not to play the men’s futsal tournament scheduled for February 26-March 8 in Turkmenistan was “to ensure the safety and well-being of all participating teams and stakeholders.”
Futsal is a variation of soccer (football) played on a hard court, usually indoors.
New tournament dates will be announced “when the situation stabilizes,” the Malaysia-based soccer body said.
Of the 16 teams due to take part, five were from countries with cases of the new coronavirus, including China.
Turkmenistan’s soccer federation said on Monday that a club from the country would not travel to Kyrgyzstan for a game in the AFC Cup, Asia’s second-tier club competition.
The federation said FC Ahal, the Turkmen club, considered it too risky to travel to the game against Neftchi, the Kyrgyz team, in the second preliminary round.
Kyrgyzstan has a lengthy border with China. The Akipress news agency cited Health Minister Kosmosbek Cholponbayev as saying on Monday that Kyrgyzstan has reported no confirmed cases of the virus. Nevertheless, over the weekend Kyrgyz authorities temporarily closed the border and suspended air traffic from China. The Kyrgyz-Chinese border had been closed, as is usual, during the Chinese New Year holiday from January 24 to 31 but authorities decided to extend the closure due to concern about the spread of the coronavirus.
As of Tuesday morning (EST), the AFC website listed the game as scheduled for Wednesday in the Kyrgyz city of Jalal-Abad. The AFC didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the game.
Health concerns already forced the AFC to change plans for games in the Asian Champions League, and a Tokyo Olympics qualifying group this month for women was moved from China to Australia.
An emergency meeting of Asian Champions League clubs playing in the east zone has been called for Tuesday in Kuala Lumpur. The group stage is due to kick off next week.
By Alexander Vershinin for the Associated Press with additional reporting by The Diplomat.