TAIPEI (Reuters) -Taiwan has pulled out of the final baseball qualifying tournament for the Tokyo Olympics after failing to secure a training facility and because of concerns over the health of the players in Mexico.
Ranked fourth in the world, 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.
Despite the baseball team dropping out, Taiwan's foreign minister said on Thursday that the government supported the Olympics going ahead.
"We understand that the Japanese government and the International Olympic Committee have been working very hard in making sure that the Olympics can take place in Tokyo," Joseph Wu told the foreign press in Tokyo via a video conference call.
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. 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.
China pulled out of the final Olympic qualification tournament last month, leaving a five-team event now reduced to four with Taiwan's withdrawal.
Australia and Netherlands are confirmed for the tournament with the second and third-placed teams from the Americas qualifiers set to join them.
"At this stage Team Australia is still planning to attend," Baseball Australia Chief Executive Glenn Williams told Reuters by e-mail on Thursday.
"The complexity of the location change so close to the event is providing challenges but we are working on trying to meet those challenges."
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard, additional reporting by Park Ju-min in Tokyo and Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Peter Rutherford and Toby Davis)