The outbreak of the Coronavirus has compromised countless sporting events across the world and has left various officials searching for a way to keep playing around the spreading illness.
Coronavirus originated in the Wuhan province of China in late 2019. The flu-like illness’ spread has led to many deaths among Chinese citizens and has made its way to various countries across Europe and even the United States, prompting various sports’ governing bodies to analyze its spread and plan accordingly.
In China, the indoor track World Athletics Indoor Championship events, scheduled to be held in Nanjing from March 13-15 were postponed until 2021. Additionally, sports such as table tennis, badminton and golf were among those affected by the virus, with events either being canceled or postponed.
Multiple Swiss soccer league clubs have temporarily shut down due to their members not wanting to play in spectator-less stadiums, but they are expected to return to play on March 23. Public events with over 5,000 people present are banned in all of France, including sporting events. A handful of Italian soccer matches were delayed due to more than 1,000 people testing positive for Coronavirus in the country.
The world of motorsport was severely affected by the spread of Coronavirus, with many significant races being compromised.
The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the governing body of many major motorsports, decided to postpone the Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix, which was originally slated to take place in Shanghai from April 17-19. The Imola circuit in San Marino, which has hosted Formula 1 races in the past, proposed on Feb. 17 to replace the Chinese Grand Prix. Additionally, the Ferrari-owned Mugello circuit in Italy has also proposed replacing the stricken grand prix. The FIA has not yet publicly responded to these propositions.
Formula E, an electric racing car series run by the FIA, postponed its March 21 race in Sanya of the Hainan province in China. MotoGP, the world’s premier motorcycle racing league, canceled its season opener in Qatar before canceling the following race, the Thailand Grand Prix, a day later.
The Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, slated to be held from July 24 to Aug. 9, has faced intense scrutiny and debate on whether or not they should continue. The Olympic Minister of Japan, Seiko Hashimoto, called “for the games to be held within 2020,” continuing by saying that her statement “could be interpreted as allowing a postponement.” International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach is “very confident with regards [to] the success” of the Tokyo 2020 games continuing, despite ongoing talks with world health organizations.
Other Japanese sporting events have seen precautionary changes. Scheduled baseball games are being played in empty stadiums, all J-League soccer home games were postponed and the 2020 Tokyo Marathon had only a small smattering of spectators; just a few hundred compared to a planned 38,000.
While the Coronavirus’ presence in the United States is seemingly quite small, it has nonetheless prompted American sports leagues to consider contingency options if the outbreak becomes more widespread.
The upcoming NCAA basketball tournament starting later this month spawned an advocacy group to bring up the idea of playing the March Madness games in empty arenas as a precautionary measure.
“Precautions should include canceling all auxiliary events that puts players in contact with crowds,” said the statement by the National College Players Association. “There should be a serious discussion about holding competitions without an audience present.”
The NBA, MLB and NHL have not taken any drastic precautionary measures against Coronavirus, but the leagues all echo a familiar sentiment of closely following the unfolding situation.
A similar scenario affecting the American sports market in 2003 was a consequence of the outbreak of the SARS virus, a respiratory illness which also originated in China. In Toronto and parts of southern Ontario, 44 deaths were recorded as a result of the virus, which spelled issues for “the six’s” sports teams. The MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays were under threat because of an early season game against the Texas Rangers where tickets were being sold for $1 that, untimely, occurred after a World Health Organization (WHO) warning urged people from travelling to Toronto.
The MLB’s medical advisor, Elliott Pellman, requested that teams who traveled to Toronto force players not to sign autographs, use public transit or mingle with fans following WHO’s announcement. Regardless, nearly 50,000 people showed up to Rogers Centre on April 29 despite the league’s and WHO’s warnings. A day after the game, WHO rescinded its warning.
There are still unanswered questions in regards to Coronavirus’ future, a possible cure and how people can contain its spread. While athletes may have the illusion of appearing untouchable by world events or crises, they’re human too. What affects the global “normal” population can certainly affect the global sports population.