By Nick Mulvenney
SYDNEY (Reuters) – The Players Championship golf event was halted after one round and the Australian Formula One Grand Prix scrapped as the unprecedented shutdown of elite sport triggered by the coronavirus pandemic continued around the globe on Friday.
In a frenetic 24 hours, Europe’s leading soccer leagues were placed on hold, the top men’s tennis circuit was suspended for six weeks, the NHL shut down and cricket matches ordered to be played without fans.
The Olympics, the biggest sports event of them all, will go ahead as planned, Tokyo organizers 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 sporting bodies wrestling with the 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.
More events look likely to be affected in coming days, with Australia’s most popular sports set to be impacted by government advice against crowds of more than 500 people from Monday.
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 Formula One fans queuing at the gates of Albert Park in Melbourne early on Friday for the season-opener, the race was canceled 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.
Six-times world champion Lewis Hamilton welcomed the move.
“This is really serious with people dying every day, lots of people ill and even if they are not ill, many people being affected financially and emotionally,” the Mercedes driver said.
Fans at The Players Championship, often called the “fifth major” of men’s golf, at least got to see the first round at Sawgrass in Florida on Thursday before the PGA announced a ban on spectators at all its events until April 5.
The relevance of that ban proved short-lived as the tournament was scrapped a few hours later along with the next three events on the PGA Tour.
“At this point – and as the situation continues to rapidly change – the right thing to do for our players and our fans is to pause,” the Tour said in a statement.
OLYMPICS GO AHEAD
In Tokyo, officials said they were determined to hold a “safe and secure” Olympics on schedule, a day after U.S. President Donald Trump said they should consider a one-year postponement 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.”
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 shutdown but canceled tournaments in Charleston, Guadalajara and Bogota with a decision on the European claycourt season promised this week.
The Indian Wells tournament had already been canceled and the International Tennis Federation (ITF) had suspended the revamped version of the Fed Cup Finals scheduled for Budapest.
The virus has had a big impact on North American sport with a positive test for a Utah Jazz player prompting the National Basketball Association (NBA) to suspended the season until further notice on Wednesday.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman followed suit on Thursday by announcing a temporarily suspension of its season 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 of its season.
The NCAA’s “March Madness” basketball tournament, one of the most popular annual sporting events in America, was also canceled.
In Europe, domestic soccer leagues, the Champions League and the pan-continental 2020 European Championship have all been left in limbo.
European governing body, UEFA, will hold a meeting with 55 federations on Tuesday to discuss the effect of the crisis on leagues, European competition and Euro 2020, which is due to start in June.
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.
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. [nR1N29V005]
Two Serie A players, Sampdoria’s Manolo Gabbiadini and Daniele Rugani of Juve, have tested positive, as has Chelsea forward Callum Hudson-Odoi, the Premier League club said.
In cricket, fans were excluded from a one-day international series between Australia and New Zealand, which started at Sydney Cricket Ground on Friday, and India’s government has ordered international matches to be played in empty stadiums.
(Additional writing by Martyn Herman and Amy Tennery; Editing by Peter Rutherford)