Taiwan pulls out of baseball Olympic qualifying tournament over Covid-19 fears

Taiwan was originally scheduled to host the tournament before a spike in Covid-19 cases in the territory forced the WBSC to move it to Mexico

epa09211614 A pedestrian walks past the logo of Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, 19 May 2021, as a three-day meeting of the IOC Coordination Commission for the Games of the XXXII Olympiad starts.  The International Olympic Committee, the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the Japanese Olympic Committee, the Government of Japan and other relevant parties participate in the meeting.  EPA/KIMIMASA MAYAMA
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Taiwan has pulled out of the final baseball qualifying tournament for the Tokyo Olympics after failing to secure a training facility and because of concerns over the health of the players in Mexico.

Ranked fourth in the world, Taiwan was scheduled to host the tournament before a spike in Covid-19 cases in the territory forced the World Baseball Softball Confederation to move the competition to Puebla, Mexico.

Mexico is still reporting thousands of new Covid-19 cases a day and health ministry data released on Wednesday said that 228,146 people had died since the start of the pandemic.

Taiwan, which competes as Chinese Taipei at the Olympics, has won only 22 medals at previous Summer Games, including a baseball silver in Barcelona in 1992.

The surge in Covid-19 cases in Taiwan was also behind the refusal of the local Yunlin County government to let the squad prepare at training fields under its jurisdiction, the Chinese Taipei Baseball Association said in a statement.

"We apologise to all team staff who originally expressed their willingness to participate and we thank them for their dedication," a statement released late on Wednesday said.

Baseball is returning to the Games for the first time since Beijing 2008, when Taiwan finished fifth in the group stage to just miss out on the medal rounds.

Six teams will compete for gold in Tokyo with hosts Japan, Israel, Mexico and South Korea already qualified.

The Americas qualifying tournament, which offers one ticket to Tokyo, is ongoing in the US with the final berth up for grabs in Puebla from June 22 to 26.

China pulled out of the final Olympic qualification tournament last month, leaving a five-team event now reduced to four with Taiwan's withdrawal.

Australia and the Netherlands are the two teams confirmed for the tournament with the second and third-placed teams from the Americas qualifiers set to join them.

"At this stage Team Australia is still planning to attend," Baseball Australia chief executive Glenn Williams told Reuters by email on Thursday.

"The complexity of the location change so close to the event is providing challenges but we are working on trying to meet those challenges."