Sporting Fixtures Pandemonium as Coronavirus Spreads Globally
The World Health Organisation’s decision to declare the coronavirus a pandemic has led to the government to consider strict new measures which will severely impact an already decimated sporting schedule and puts sporting events, including Euro 2020 at risk.
At yesterday’s Cobra (Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms) meeting, leaders of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales planned the UK’s response to the outbreak. So far, some 590 cases were confirmed in the UK by Friday morning including ten deaths, although that figure is expected to rise. If the UK follows the pattern of Italy, who experts believe are four weeks behind Italy, a doubling of these figures within the next seven days is highly likely according to healthcare professionals.
The English football leagues, so far, have not been instructed to play behind closed doors.
Scotland and Northern Ireland from Monday, have taken a different approach and banned all events with more than 500 people. Even for the most optimistic of fans, it surely is only a matter of when not if, that we see the postponement of football and all physical sport in general.
Premier League Postponement Imminent
Premier League chiefs are on a conference call today to decide whether or not to postpone top-flight football. Several games this week, including Europa League clashes involving Manchester United and Wolves, took place behind closed doors. However, overnight, two high-profile figures confirmed they had contracted the virus, meaning postponement of the league seems almost a certainty. The two affected are Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea’s England international Callum Hudson-Odoi who became the first Premier League player to test positive for coronavirus.
Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers has confirmed that three of Leicester City’s first-team players have self-isolated after displaying symptoms and have been “kept away from the rest of the squad”. Rodgers would not disclose the identities of the players but stated the club had followed set procedures.
Five Arsenal players were forced to self-isolate this week after coming into contact with Olympiakos owner Evangelos Marinakis, and Manchester City’s Benjamin Mendy is also self-isolating. Mendy, 25, trained with his team-mates earlier this week but a family member presented at the hospital with symptoms of respiratory illness. The French left-back has not reported feeling unwell with the club confirming it was a precautionary measure. Already cancelled is Arsenal’s game this weekend against Brighton, and it seems almost a formality that Chelsea’s visit to Aston Villa will be postponed as well. The Premier League is the only top-flight league in Europe that is continuing, as usual, a fact that has come under intense media speculation with questions asked if sport is putting profit before the welfare of the fans and players.
The call that will decide the fate of this weekends fixtures will take place today at 12:30. The most likely scenario will be a postponement of Premier League action until the scheduled international break. If that is the outcome, the Football Association is likely to cancel EFL fixtures as well. The coronavirus outbreak has also cast doubt on the Champions League, Europa League and this year’s Euros competition, the final of which is due to be held at Wembley. Uefa is to discuss a possible Euro 2020 postponement on Tuesday with an idea being mooted is to move the competition, planned for June/July, to 2021.
Will the Olympics Be Called Off?
Some major sporting events are at threat if the coronavirus outbreak lasts for many months. In the UK, despite the Cheltenham Festival going ahead as planned, serious question marks linger over the Grand National. The FA Cup final is scheduled for May and Wimbledon could also be hit if the outbreak continues into June.
Perhaps the biggest sporting event at risk is this year’s Olympics. Scheduled for July in Japan, the IOC president Thomas Bach said recently that the committee had not mentioned the words “cancellation” and “postponement” at a recent executive board meeting. However, despite Bach’s reassurances, it seems doubtful that the Olympics could go ahead as normal.
An idea suggested is to ban spectators at the Olympics, an idea that was attacked by US President Donald Trump, who said a better option is to postpone the Games. The president said:
For the Olympics I can’t see having no people there, maybe, this is just my idea, they postpone it for a year if that is possible. It is a shame. I like that better than having empty stadiums.– Donald Trump, US President
Trump added that the event held a year later is a better alternative than having no crowds in attendance.
When Did The Virus Start Affect Sport
The impact on sport, due to the coronavirus, started on the 22nd of January when Olympic boxing qualifiers and Olympic women’s qualifiers in football, due to take place in Wuhan in China were either cancelled or moved. Within a matter of days, other sports were impacted. Tennis (Fed Cup Asia/Oceania Group), basketball (The Women’s Olympic qualifying tournament), athletics (The World Athletics Indoor Championships) and football (all domestic Chinese games) were hit within a week. Since then the outbreak has spread, snooker, golf, badminton, motorsport, hockey and rugby events were all hit by the time Valentine’s day arrived. In the last couple of days, we have seen a surge of cancellations, all major sport in the United States, including the NBA, NHL and MLS, has been suspended. The Australian GP, scheduled for this weekend has been called off, and the Players Championship in golf is also a victim.