The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on sports swept into the southern hemisphere on Friday with the cancellation of the Australian Formula One Grand Prix adding to an unprecedented shutdown of elite events and competitions around the globe.
Top European soccer leagues were placed on hold on Thursday, while the elite men’s tennis circuit was suspended for six weeks, the NHL shut down and golf’s prestigious Players Championship was cancelled.
The Olympics, the biggest sports event of them all, will go ahead as planned, Tokyo organisers insisted on Friday, a few hours after the flame was lit in ancient Olympia at the start of the torch relay.
The coronavirus outbreak has left sport administrators wrestling with the inherent contradiction of holding events designed to bring large numbers of people together at a time when governments are desperate to stop the spread of a virus transmitted by close contact.
England’s hugely popular Premier League will hold an emergency meeting on Friday after Arsenal announced that club manager Mikel Arteta had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers, who has three players in self-isolation after showing symptoms of the virus, said England should follow the lead of Italy, France, Spain and the Netherlands in suspending the season.
“There is absolutely no doubt, from a logical perspective. There’s the public health and ethical side as well,” he said.
With fans queuing at the gates of Albert Park in Melbourne early on Friday for the Formula One season-season opener, the race was cancelled just a few hours before the cars were scheduled to take to the track for the first time.
The decision came after a member of the McLaren team tested positive for the coronavirus and the British-based outfit scratched from the race, which attracts some three lakh fans every year.
Olympics to go ahead
In Tokyo, top Japanese government officials said they were determined to hold a “safe and secure” Olympics on schedule, a day after U.S. President Donald Trump said organisers should consider delaying them for a year because of the pandemic.
“I’m aware of President Trump’s remarks,” Japan’s Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto told a news conference.
“The IOC (International Olympic Committee) and 2020 organisers are not at all considering cancelling or postponing the Games.”
Fans at golf’s Players Championship at least got to see the first round at Sawgrass on Thursday before the PGA announced a ban on spectators at all its events until April 5.
Players and caddies were later informed the tournament had been cancelled.
In tennis, the men’s ATP Tour announced on Thursday that no tournaments would take place until after April 20 at the earliest, wiping out the prestigious Miami Open and Monte Carlo Masters as well as events in Houston, Marrakech and Barcelona.
The WTA, which runs the women’s tour, stopped short of a wholesale shut down but cancelled tournaments in Charleston, Guadalajara and Bogota with a decision on the European claycourt season promised this week.
The Indian Wells tournament had already been cancelled and the International Tennis Federation (ITF) has suspended all its events until April 20, including the revamped version of the Fed Cup Finals scheduled for Budapest.
The virus had already had a big impact on North American sport with a positive test for a Utah Jazz player prompting the National Basketball Association (NBA) to suspend the season until further notice on Wednesday.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced it had temporarily suspended its season in a statement issued after a conference call with the board of governors.
Major League Baseball suspended Spring Training and said it would place opening day on hold, while Major League Soccer announced a 30-day suspension for its current season.
The NCAA’s “March Madness” basketball tournament, one of the most popular annual sporting events in America, was also cancelled.
Leagues in Limbo
Domestic soccer leagues, Europe’s elite club competition the Champions League and the pan-continental 2020 European Championship have all been left in limbo.
Spain’s Real Madrid put their squad into quarantine after a member of the club’s basketball team tested positive on Thursday and their Champions League last-16 clash at Manchester City next week has been postponed.
Juventus’s Champions League tie against Olympique Lyonnais next week has also been postponed.
Italy’s Serie A has already stopped until at least April 3 with the country in lockdown after more than 15,000 infections and over 1,000 deaths.
Two Serie A players, Sampdoria’s Manolo Gabbiadini and Daniele Rugani of Juve, have tested positive.
European soccer’s governing body UEFA will hold an emergency meeting with 55 football federations on Tuesday to discuss the effect of the crisis on domestic leagues, European competitions and Euro 2020, which is due to start in June.
Fans will be excluded from a one-day international cricket series between Australia and New Zealand, which starts at Sydney Cricket Ground later on Friday, and India’s government has ordered international matches to be played in empty stadiums.