COVID-19: How the virus is impacting sports events across the globe

As the world comes to terms with the continually evolving threat of COVID-19, SBC focuses on how the outbreak is having a significant impact on sporting events across the globe. 

Football 

Following the UK Government’s decision not to ban major gatherings, in spite of much criticism, the English Premier League seemed intent on continuing to play out the fixture list and allow fans to visit the stadium. 

That was until Arsenal Manager Mikel Arteta tested positive for the virus, soon followed by Chelsea player Callum Hudson-Odoi. The Premier League has since scheduled an emergency meeting for Friday morning to discuss plans, with high expectancy that the league will at least be suspended. 

The situation within the EFL is constantly evolving, however many are reporting that the league will follow the lead of the Premier League meaning suspension is highly likely. 

At the time of writing, the German Bundesliga will go ahead behind closed doors, although many observers are understandably pessimistic about the chances of finishing the season. 

The completion of Italy’s Serie A is in serious doubt and the league has been suspended, after Juventus’ Daniele Rugani and Sampdoria’s Manolo Gabbiadini both tested positive for the illness. The league is one of many within Europe that is shrouded in uncertainty, with a plethora of fixtures having already been postponed.  

The Spanish La Liga joins the list of leagues that are currently suspended, with Real Madrid entering into a 15 day quarantine. 

It is also possible that UEFA could consider postponement of this Summer’s European Championship until next year.

Racing

Following Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s announcement of school closures and restrictions on large gatherings across Ireland, the Board of Horse Racing Ireland has confirmed that all race meetings will take place behind closed doors, starting at Dundalk today.

It follows Government advice issued this morning to contain the spread of COVID-19, including an instruction to limit external gatherings to less than 500 people, with the decision expected to last until 29 March.

The restrictions will include: race meetings will be closed to the public with recommended social distancing measures implemented on track;  access will be restricted to essential service providers and industry participants; there will be no catering services, on course bookmakers or Tote services provided; and Racing will continue to be made available to broadcasters as at present.

Brian Kavanagh, Chief Executive of Horse Racing Ireland, said: “It is important that horse racing acts responsibly and plays its part in the efforts to limit the spread of Covid-19. That is why we are announcing, with immediate effect, that horse racing fixtures in Ireland will continue between now and March 29th, but will be run behind closed doors with very restrictive access. 

“Race meetings will not be open to the public, in line with measures taken by other international racing jurisdictions, such as France, Hong Kong, Japan and Dubai.

“Public health is the number one priority and these restrictions will continue to be kept under constant review as we liaise with our colleagues in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of Health. 

“The restrictions which we are announcing today will limit social interaction but will allow a vital rural industry to continue to operate, protecting livelihoods and jobs.”

MMA 

The global pandemic is likely to seriously hinder the busy schedule of the UFC, although reports are suggesting that this weekend’s event in Brasilia, Brazil is set to go ahead behind closed doors. Forthcoming events in Columbus and Portland are also likely to take place behind closed doors. 

The promotion also revealed that it is heeding the advice of the UK government and as of right now UFC London, which is set to take place a week from Saturday, is set to go ahead as normal.  

Fans will be casting their eyes to the next PPV event, which takes place on 18 April and sees two of the sport’s most sought after talents, Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedom, collide in a fight that has been scheduled and subsequently fallen through on four previous occasions. 

Furthermore, Asia’s leading MMA promotion ONE Championship revealed that all its events will be closed-door, audience-free affairs effective immediately until at least 29 May, 2020. 

The firm emphasised that in making the decision it was placing the safety of its fans, athletes, staff and partners as a foremost priority. 

Chatri Sityodtong, the firm’s CEO stated on his social media: “For the millions of fans at home around the world, the show will go on from the comfort and safety of your living room. Our global broadcast shows behind closed doors will commence in Singapore with an initial schedule of April 17, April 24, May 1, and May 8 respectively. 

“Bout cards will be announced shortly for these broadcast-only shows, and additional dates will be added in the near future. Also, ONE Infinity Series, the world apex of martial arts events, is now slated to kick off on May 29, 2020 in Manila, Philippines with ONE Infinity 1 at the Mall of Asia Arena.

“We are operating in truly extraordinary times, but my team and I remain committed to providing you the best sports and entertainment action available anywhere on global broadcast today. ONE Championship will continue to thrill you with the greatest martial artists on the planet and inspire you with their incredible stories. This virus might be on the attack right now, but I believe in the power of the human spirit.”

Boxing 

The UK’s leading boxing promotion, Matchroom, has assured fans buying tickets that in the event of postponement refunds will be available. The firm was forced to delay two events due to take place in Italy. However, its next scheduled UK event takes place at the 02 Arena on 28 March. 

This opens a busy period for boxing. Over the next few months, Anthony Joshua, Dillian Whyte, Daniel Dubois and Dereck Chisora are all headlining separate pay per view events, something the sport will be hoping isn’t derailed by COVID-19. 

Across the pond, Top Rank’s events for Saturday and Tuesday headlined by Olympians Shakur Stevenson and Michael Conlan have both been postponed. 

Basketball

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has suspended its current season over fears that coronavirus will spread after Utah Jazz player Donovan Mitchell tested positive for the virus. 

The player was preliminarily tested positive prior to Jazz’s game against Oklahoma City Thunder at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. 

A spokesperson from the NBA stated: “The NBA is suspending gameplay following the conclusion of Wednesday’s schedule of games until further notice. The NBA will use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic.”

After monitoring COVID-19’s impact the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) revealed that its remaining winter and spring championships will be canceled until greater clarity is given on the impact the virus has on American society.

NCAA said: “Today, NCAA President Mark Emmert and the Board of Governors canceled the Division I men’s and women’s 2020 basketball tournaments, as well as all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships. 

“This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during this academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities.”

Tennis
Various tennis competitions such as the International Tennis Federation’s Fed Cup and the ATP Tour have been suspended.

The ITF announced that next month’s Fed Cup finals, expected to be held in Budapest, has been postponed due to Hungarian authorities banning public gatherings of more than 100 people indoors.

An ITF spokesperson stated: “After careful consideration and close discussion with the ITF Board, the Local Organising Committee, and in light of today’s announcement by the Hungarian government regarding indoor events, it is with regret that the ITF has announced the postponement of the Fed Cup Finals, originally scheduled to take place 14-19 April at the Laszlo Papp Sport Arena in Budapest.”

Meanwhile the ATP Tour has postponed all play for six weeks in order to protect players and spectators from the virus. This follows on from the Miami Open being cancelled and the postponement of Indian Wells.

ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi added: “It represents a great loss for our tournaments, players, and fans worldwide. However, we believe this is the responsible action needed at this time in order to protect the health and safety of our players, staff, the wider tennis community and general public health in the face of this global pandemic.

“The worldwide nature of our sport and the international travel required presents significant risks and challenges in today’s circumstances, as do the increasingly restrictive directives issued by local authorities. We continue to monitor this on a daily basis and we look forward to the Tour resuming when the situation improves.”

Rugby

The upcoming Super League match between Catalans Dragons and Leeds Rhinos is due to be played behind closed doors, amid COVID-19 concerns. At the time of writing, the game is still expected to be broadcast on Sky.

“The clubs will comply with the restrictions placed upon them by the French government and other arrangements will be resolved between the two clubs,” the Rugby Football League said in a statement.

“The RFL stresses that this was a difficult decision enforced by the current circumstances, and acknowledges and has sympathy with the impact it will have on the Catalans club.

“The RFL will consult with Catalans regarding their other home fixture scheduled for the period covered by the decree, against Toronto Wolfpack on Saturday, April 11.”

Six Nations games have also been affected by the virus outbreak, with Italy v Ireland, France v Ireland, Italy v England all postponed. The Women’s Six Nations game between Wales and Scotland was also postponed after a Scottish player was confirmed to have the virus.

A statement on the tournament website read: “Six Nations and its constituent unions and federations will work closely to identify dates on which all postponed matches will take place.

“No immediate announcement will be made on rescheduling as we will need to discuss with all relevant stakeholders and assess the evolution of the situation.”

Formula 1

The Australian Grand Prix, which was due to start in Melbourne this weekend, has been called off after teams and drivers forced the hand of Formula 1’s bosses.

The news came after McClaren pulled out of the event after a team member was found to have Coronavirus. The news came alongside the confirmation that two members of the Haas Formula 1 team have also tested positive for the virus.

Confirmation of the abandonment followed the submission of a letter from Mercedes requesting the cancellation of the race.

Mercedes said: “We share the disappointment of the sport’s fans that this race cannot go ahead as planned. However, the physical and mental health and wellbeing of our team members and of the wider F1 community are our absolute priority.

“In light of the force majeure events we are experiencing with regards to the coronavirus pandemic, we no longer feel the safety of our employees can be guaranteed if we continue to take part in the event.

“If organisers try to press ahead with the weekend it appears at this stage as if not all the teams will take part.”

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