MELBOURNE - Australia will not be taking up an offer to send athletes to the Asian Games for the first time this year as none of the invited sports federations expressed an interest in going to Hangzhou, the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) said on Tuesday.

The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) had invited a quota of around 300 athletes and 150 support staff from Oceania nations, including Australia and New Zealand, to compete at the Sept. 10-25 Games in the eastern Chinese city. “We don’t have any athletes going,” an AOC spokesman told Reuters on Tuesday.

A New Zealand Olympic Committee spokeswoman also confirmed the country would not participate at the Games. The AOC’s outgoing president John Coates, an IOC Vice President and one of the world’s most influential sports administrators, had long pushed for Australia’s athletes to be included in the Asian Games to expose them to stiffer competition. The quadrennial Asian Games are second in size only to the Summer Olympics.

The Hangzhou Games have been under a cloud since an outbreak of COVID-19 in Shanghai, some 175 kilometres northwest of the city. A media report last week quoted the OCA’s director-general as saying there was a possibility the Games would be postponed because of the COVID situation. Most international sporting events in China have been postponed or cancelled since the start of the pandemic, with the notable exception of the Beijing Winter Olympics, which went ahead under strict controls in February.