SYDNEY (AP) — Australia’s Olympic baseball team has given up trying to qualify for the Tokyo Games because of coronavirus-related travel complications.
Baseball Australia’s chief executive Glenn Williams on Wednesday said the “gut-wrenching” decision to withdraw makes Olympic qualification impossible. The final qualifying tournament on June 22-26 was initially due to be hosted by Taiwan but late last month it was moved to Puebla, Mexico.
“Attending the final Olympic qualifier in a COVID world was always going to present significant challenges,” Williams said. “The planning for Taiwan was extensive and with the late change in location and dates, those plans became obsolete.
“We worked through multiple options and scenarios but the logistical challenges of providing a safe environment for the group were insurmountable.”
Williams said even if Australia attended and won the qualifying event, subsequent quarantine requirements made it impossible to compete at the Tokyo Games starting on July 23.
“Athlete health and safety was always of paramount importance,” he said. “And there were simply too many unanswered questions presenting significant risks. The complexity of moving such a large group, through two countries, with limited flight availability, presented a real risk of members of the group being stranded overseas and requiring medical treatment.”
World No. 4-ranked Taiwan last week pulled out of the Mexico qualifying tournament for the same reason. China withdrew in early May before the tournament was moved from Taiwan to Mexico.
The decision left the Dominican Republic, Netherlands and Venezuela to compete for the final spot in the six-nation Olympic field.
The first-place team in the round-robin round in Puebla will advance to the final, and the second- and third-place teams will meet in a one-game playoff for a place in the one-game final.
The winner joins host Japan, the United States, Israel, Mexico and South Korea at the Olympic baseball tournament from July 28 to Aug. 7 in Fukushima and Yokohama.
Baseball is returning to the Olympics after being dropped for 2012 and 2016. Cuba won the gold medal in 1992, 1996 and 2004, the United States in 2000 and South Korea in 2008. Baseball is likely to be dropped for the 2024 Olympics in Paris and then restored again for 2028 in Los Angeles.