TAIPEI, June 3 (Reuters) - Taiwan has pulled out of the final baseball qualifying tournament for the Tokyo Olympics after being unable to secure a training facility and because of concerns over the health of the players in Mexico.
Ranked fourth in the world rankings, Taiwan was originally scheduled to host the tournament before a spike in COVID-19 cases in the country forced the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) to move it 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.
The surge in COVID-19 cases in Taiwan was also behind the refusal of the Yunlin County local government to let the squad prepare at training fields under their 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,” the statement released late on Wednesday added.
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.
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 nations 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 United States with the final berth up for grabs in Puebla from June 22-26. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard, writing by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Peter Rutherford)