Covid-19 red cards major events

The show must go on. Whatever hardships we’ve had to endure, that simple phrase has always been there to provide comfort and give us an excuse to continue with our favourite distractions. But this time the cliché may be insufficient.

As governments battle to contain the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19), major sporting events, like everything else, have been affected. Some organisers are cautionary, others optimistic, but no one can provide certainty. With stadiums offering the possibility of becoming breeding grounds for Covid-19, determining what goes ahead and what doesn’t is by no means a minor discussion.

Italy, which has 60-million residents under lockdown, has postponed all sporting events, including Serie A. Other less affected European countries have taken varying approaches to their football leagues. Spain’s La Liga has also been suspended for the next two weeks while Germany has a long list of matches that will go ahead, but without spectators.

In England, Liverpool haven’t even ascended the throne but now have the sword of Damocles hanging over them. The good news for them (if one is to call it that) is the country has adopted their World War II mantra of “keep calm and carry on” and will probably do anything to keep the multibillion-dollar Premier League industry going. So far the primary measure has been to suspend pre-game handshakes. Instead, players will awkwardly nod at each other before skirmishing in a full-contact sport for 90 minutes.

Should worse come to worse, some, such as Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola, think that putting things on ice would be far preferable to the empty seats option. “Does football work without spectators?” he asked after City’s clash with Arsenal became the first English game to be called off. “If the people can’t come, there is no sense. We will follow what we have to do, but I wouldn’t like to do it without the people.”

Although no Gunners players or staff appear to have contracted Covid-19, some are undergoing self-isolation as a precautionary measure.

A sportsman who has tested positive is Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz in the National Basketball Association (NBA). On Wednesday night, the match referees huddled just before tip-off and then called off the game with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The NBA announced soon after that it would suspend the league until further notice.

Two days before his positive test results, Gobert appeared to mock Covid-19 by touching all the microphones at a press conference.

Football’s governing body, Uefa, is another that wishes to stubbornly go ahead as usual to the greatest extent it can. But with travel restrictions tightening, even it may be forced to pause the Champions League and Europa League at the last-16 stage. (Two matches in the latter involving Italian teams have already been called off.)

The clock is also ticking on Euro 2020. The quadrennial event is due to go ahead in the middle of June — a date not in keeping with some experts prediction of successful containment of the disease. This also just happens to be the year Uefa had planned to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the competition by hosting it across 12 countries.

If we’re talking major international events, they don’t get much bigger than the Olympic Games. Cancelling the event hasn’t been a topic for discussion since Hitler invaded Poland.

“It is our basic stance that we press ahead with preparation for a safe and secure Olympics,” committee chief Yoshiro Mori said. “Therefore we are not at all thinking about changing courses or plans.”

Should their hand be forced in the coming weeks or months, the Olympics will probably be moved to two years from now and will potentially set Japan back billions of dollars.

Other events that will be affected by Covid-19, according to AFP, are:

TENNIS: The prestigious ATP and WTA tournament was cancelled as California health officials declared a public health emergency in the Indian Wells-Palm Springs area after a confirmed case of Covid-19, the first major sports event in the United States to be shelved because of the outbreak. Many players had already arrived with main draw matches having been scheduled to begin on Wednesday. The tournament, which draws more than 400000 fans each year, had already offered refunds.

RUGBY UNION: The Six Nations match between Italy and England in Rome on March 14 as well as the Ireland vs Italy duel in Dublin on March 7 were postponed; title challengers France’s final game against Ireland, also scheduled for March 14, was delayed on Monday; Scotland’s women’s Six Nations match against France on Saturday was postponed after a Scottish player tested positive for the coronavirus disease; and Sevens World Series tournaments in Hong Kong on April 3-5 and Singapore the following weekend will now be played in October.

MOTORSPORT: Bahrain’s Formula One Grand Prix on March 20-22 will be held without spectators; Formula One’s Chinese Grand Prix, which was set for April 19 in Shanghai, has been postponed; in motorcycling, the season-opening Qatar MotoGP, which should have taken place over the weekend, was cancelled and the Thailand MotoGP on March 22 was postponed until October 4; Formula E postponed indefinitely the Rome E-Prix, which was due to be held on April 4; and the E-prix in Sanya, China, on March 21 has been cancelled.

CYCLING: The spring classic Milan-San Remo, scheduled for March 21, was postponed; the Strade Bianchi, the first big race of the Italian cycling season set for Saturday, was also cancelled along with the Tirreno-Adriatico; and the UAE Tour’s last two stages were abandoned with riders and teams subsequently quarantined in their Abu Dhabi hotels. The Gulf state announced eight coronavirus cases linked to the event — four Italians, two Russians, one German and a Colombian.

GOLF: European Tour chiefs postponed the Maybank Championship in Malaysia and the China Open in Shenzhen — both set for April — and the US LPGA Tour cancelled three of its early-season events in Asia.

ATHLETICS: The World Indoor Championships, scheduled for Nanjing from March 13-15, were postponed until next year; world half-marathon championships, due to be held on March 29 in Poland, were shelved until October 17; the Paris Marathon, scheduled for April 5 with 60000 registered runners, was postponed until October 18; and the Barcelona Marathon, scheduled for March 15 with 17000 runners, was postponed until October.

ALPINE SKIING: The World Cup finals, scheduled for Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy between March 16-22, were cancelled.

BASEBALL: Japan’s domestic baseball season, originally set to open on March 10, was postponed.

ICE HOCKEY: The Women’s World Ice Hockey Championships, set for Halifax and Truro in Nova Scotia for March 31 to April 10, were cancelled.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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