(ATR) Amid encouraging signs that the last stages of baseball's delayed Olympic qualifying process could be completed, a COVID outbreak in Taiwan has brought back uncertainty.
On Wednesday, the Chinese Taipei Professional Baseball Association (CPBL) warned of the possibility of canceling the World Qualifier in that country, which would force the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) to urgently seek a new host venue.
"The Final Classification from June 16 to 20 would be a miracle...Taiwan is under a level 3 alert," the CPBL warned on Twitter.
A Level 3 alert requires, among other restrictions, that people must wear masks at all times outside their homes, not allow indoor gatherings of more than five people, and outdoors they are limited to 10 people.
Taiwan will temporarily suspend the entry of foreigners without a residence permit from May 19 to June 18.
Around the Rings also learned today that the professional baseball season in Taipei has been suspended "until further notice" according to prevention guidelines after it was initially announced that it would only be for a week.
Until now, Taiwan was presented as a world example to follow in containing the coronavirus despite its proximity to China where the pandemic originated.
Due to that own confidence in the successful control of the virus without resorting to extreme measures, currently only about one percent of the population of Taiwan has been vaccinated, according to press reports.
According to official sources, Taiwan has bought almost 20 million doses of vaccines from different pharmaceutical companies which have gradually begun to arrive in the country.
On Wednesday, the authorities reported 267 cases, bringing the total to 1,226 cases in the last five days. According to the government, Taiwan has only recorded 2,533 cases since the beginning of the pandemic and 14 deaths.
In all this time, Taiwan remained a very safe venue to organize sporting events even with the public, including the World Pre-Olympic.
Some experts consulted do not rule out that the WBSC could use the Florida venues for the upcoming world qualifier as a Plan B.
Around the Ringshas asked the WBSC in Lausanne for comment.
In the Taiwan tournament, Chinese Taipei, the Netherlands, Australia, and the second and third places of the Florida competition would compete. China pulled out earlier this month.
WBSC ENSURES VACCINATION FOR EVERYONE IN FLORIDA
While analyzing the current situation in Taiwan, the WBSC reported that all the participants of the Tournament of the Americas who wish may be vaccinated upon arrival at the competition headquarters in Florida.
On Tuesday the WBSC announced that together with the Organizing Committee and local health authorities it will offer all participating teams and officials the option to be immunized with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine against COVID-19.
This is a single dose vaccine. They will be available when teams and officials arrive in Florida. Vaccinations will be voluntary.
The Olympic Qualifier for the Tokyo Games will begin on May 31 at stadiums in the Florida counties of St Lucie and Palm Beach with eight of the best-ranked nations on the continent, excluding Mexico, which has already booked its Olympic ticket at the Premier 12 Tournament in Japan in November 2019.
"The top priority of the WBSC and the Local Organizing Committee is, and always has been, the health and safety of the athletes and officials involved in our events," said WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari.
"Through collaboration with organizers and local health officials in Florida, we can take this important step that will help ensure a safe and successful international tournament on the way to a 'safety first' Olympics in Japan," said Fraccari.
The Americas Pre-Olympic was postponed twice in 2020 from its original site in Arizona, as was the World Qualifier in Taiwan that would award the sixth and final Olympic ticket.
Regarding health and safety measures at the Florida tournament, a source from the Organizing Committee told ATR that "protection protocols will be applied in accordance with WBSC regulations and local authorities."
These rules include temperature control, the use of antibacterial gel and social distancing in the stadiums.
"The limit of spectators will be up to 30 percent of the capacity of the stadiums," said the official.
Eight teams will compete in Florida. In Group A will be the United States, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Nicaragua, and in Group B: Cuba, Venezuela, Canada and Colombia,
The winner of the Qualifier will become the fifth national team to advance to the Tokyo 2020 tournament of six. The tournament will mark baseball's comeback in the Olympic Program following its absences in London 2012 and Rio de Janeiro 2016.
The designation of Los Angeles as the host of the Games in 2028 should lead to the new return of baseball after its absence in Paris 2024.
To date, Japan, South Korea, Mexico and Israel have qualified, and the runner-up and third place in the Tournament of the Americas will earn spots in the final baseball qualifier, which for now remains in Taiwan.
Regarding the problem with the delivery of the visas to the Cuban delegation by the Government of the United States, it is expected that they will be authorized in the next few hours.
An official of the Cuban Federation revealed to the Associated Press in Havana that last week the Cuban players and managers were authorized to finally initiate the process at the United States Embassy in Cuba despite the fact that its consular area has been closed since 2017.
Written and reported by Miguel Hernandez
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