Virus delaying China’s Olympic sliding track certification

Plans to have bobsled, skeleton and luge athletes from around the world visit China in March to help certify the track that will be used for the 2022 Beijing Olympics have been delayed over concerns about a virus that has been blamed for at least 170 deaths.

The certifying process, called homologation, is standard for any newly built track. It must be complete before the International Luge Federation and the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation officially approve the track as safe for racing.

Athletes were scheduled to be on the track in Yanqing, China, over the first two weeks of March. It’s now likely that the homologation slides will not take place before October, though no rescheduled date has been formally determined.

“This decision is based on the outbreak and continuing spread of the Novel Coronavirus which posed unexpected challenges ahead of the Organizing Committee,” the bobsled and skeleton federation said in a statement. “All the stakeholders have been doing their utmost to well prepare the pre-homologation but the health and welfare of the athletes and all participants has to be respected.”

The IBSF said the decision was made at the recommendation of the Beijing organizing committee. Officials from USA Luge and USA Bobsled and Skeleton were told of the decision Thursday.

The sliding cancellations are the latest effect that concerns over the virus are having on sports.

Qualifiers that were to have taken place in China for women’s basketball, women’s soccer and boxing for this summer’s Tokyo Olympics have been moved to other nations. The indoor world athletics championships in Nanjing were postponed by a year on Wednesday, while the international ski federation has already canceled the first World Cup races scheduled for the mountain venue — in the same area as the sliding track — where some sports will be held during the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

Delaying homologation is not ideal but doesn’t necessarily mean that plans to hold World Cup races at the new track next winter will be affected. The homologation process for the track used in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics was also delayed by a few months, after sliders who went there in the spring of 2017 couldn’t slide because of trouble with the track’s refrigeration system.

Homologation tests the safety of a track, ensures the venue is technically sound and allows sliders from around the world to suggest possible changes to the surface.

At least 10 countries have reported at least one confirmed case of the new coronavirus, though all 170 confirmed deaths as of early Thursday had taken place in China. More than 7,700 people have been confirmed to be infected with the virus.

In Geneva, the World Health Organization convened its coronavirus expert committee to assess whether the outbreak warrants being declared a global emergency. The committee last week had advised the U.N. health agency it was too early to make that pronouncement.