HONG KONG, March 21 (Reuters) – Competitive swimmer Jody Lee’s aim is to compete in the Paris Olympics in 2024, but with just two years to qualify, the closure of swimming pools for several months in Hong Kong makes the realization of his dream more difficult.

Swimming pools and all other sports facilities, including tennis courts, golf courses and gymnasiums, have been closed since January – and for more than 13 months in total since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

Lee, 15, tried to keep fit by training in the ocean, braving red tides and currents, but the city closed beaches on Thursday, making it even harder to swim.

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“I have no idea how good I am in swimming…Things are going to get particularly tough for me in terms of qualifying for the Olympics.”

The blanket ban on sports by the global financial center to combat the coronavirus is hitting thousands of athletes, residents and businesses who depend on the sports and recreation industry for glory, recreation, well-being. be or profit.

Residents and athletes are growing frustrated with what they see as an inconsistent policy by the Chinese-ruled territory’s government, which allowed hairdressers to reopen in March but closed public beaches a week later. late.

Chief Carrie Lam said there was a “need” for people to have their hair cut, then defended beach closures as necessary to prevent gatherings. Many residents had flocked to beaches and coastal parks for leisure activities with playgrounds, schools and most public places closed.

Hong Kong has officially stuck to a “dynamic zero” coronavirus policy, similar to mainland China, which seeks to curb all outbreaks as soon as they occur.

This year, authorities have implemented the city’s most draconian measures since the pandemic began in 2020. Still, infections and deaths have soared, and Lam has given no clear road map on how Hong Kong can return to normalcy. Read more

Tens of thousands of people have been financially affected by the extensive shutdowns, with coaches and clubs losing millions of dollars in revenue, sports associations said.

About 10% of Hong Kong’s 1,800 fitness centers will not be able to continue operating, said Sam Wong, executive director of the city’s Physical Fitness Association.

Gym operator Fitness First said this week it was closing its gyms in Hong Kong due to the long coronavirus lockdowns.

The city’s tennis association said stakeholders from referees and linesmen to equipment manufacturers were losing significant revenue because of the closures. He urged the government to reopen the courts as tennis can “naturally” implement social distancing measures.

On Repulse Bay Beach on the southern tip of Hong Kong, locals watched in frustration as makeshift dams prevented them from accessing the shore.

“Unscientific and reactive again,” said a resident named Michael who wouldn’t give his last name.

Many of the city’s young athletes were excited about Hong Kong’s best Olympic performance in Tokyo last year. Lam said after the Games she would deploy significant resources to support the sports industry, but the reality has been quite different, locals said.

“While Hong Kong politicians are quick to take pictures with famous and successful swim school Olympians, they don’t seem to care at all about the financial hardships we have to endure due to closures. poorly thought-out facilities,” said Michael Fasching. , head coach of the Harry Wright International Swim Club, which coached Olympian Siobhan Haughey.

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Reporting by Farah Master and Joyce Zhou; Editing by Tom Hogue

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