Coronavirus is quickly spreading and is having a detrimental effect on sport, with matches postponed, conferences cancelled, handshakes banned, and major sporting events this summer already in doubt. Let’s take a look at its impact across sport.
Five Italian Serie A matches were postponed last weekend due to the outbreak of the virus, including Juventus’ game at home to Inter Milan.
Matches at AC Milan, Parma, Sassuolo and Udinese also fell victim to the Coronavirus. It has led to the Coppa Italia final being rearranged to May 20, four days before the end of the domestic season.
Italy has been one of the worst hit countries, with northern towns on lockdown after over 2,000 confirmed cases, and 52 deaths.
The Swiss government has banned all events involving over a thousand people. The Swiss football authorities postponed round 24 of its two divisions, including including table topplers St Gallen’s trip to Sion, and have confirmed that future games may be played behind closed doors.
Ireland vs Italy off
Ireland’s Six Nations match against Italy this weekend has been called off due to fears surrounding the Covid-19 virus. All three fixtures between Ireland and Italy have been postponed, including the under-20s and the women’s games.
Six Nations chiefs met in Paris on Monday to discuss the impact of Coronavirus, and have stated that “all Six Nations matches currently scheduled are set to go ahead.”
This means that England vs Wales and Scotland vs France will go ahead, whilst the Irish Rugby Football Union is seeking to reschedule their match against Italy in the near future.
Cancelled conferences, shaking hands and autographs banned
Spanish side Valencia have cancelled all news conferences that pose a risk to their players and staff. This includes their pre-match and match-day media commitments after someone “in the media environment that usually cover the first-team” was allegedly among those infected.
In the Premier League, Newcastle and West Ham announced on Friday that handshakes between players at training have been banned, on the advice of their medical teams. Meanwhile Arsenal are among clubs to have asked visitors to their training ground to fill out a health form.
After their 3-1 defeat to West Ham, Saints boss Ralph Hassenhuttl claimed that the club had told players not to sign autographs for fans: “I still hope this virus will not be that big. You have to keep your hands clean and try to avoid contact. Let autographs go.”
As UK cases rose to 51 on Tuesday, the Premier League underlined that clubs are following the same government and NHS advice issued to all businesses and venues which are used by large numbers of people.
UAE Tour cancelled
The season opener in the World Triathlon Series in Abu Dhabi, due to take place between March 5-7, was postponed last Saturday as a “precautionary measure”, after several new cases were reported in the city.
The postponement comes after the cancellation of the final two stages of the United Arab Emirates Tour on Thursday, when two members of staff on the race developed symptoms suggesting they could have the virus.
All riders and staff have since been confined to their rooms at the Crowne Royal Plaza Abu Dhabi Yas Island, with Chris Froome and sprinter Mark Cavendish among riders being tested for the virus.
Froome, who was intending to make a highly-anticipated comeback after suffering career-threating injuries last June, shared the news via twitter:
It’s a shame that the #UAETour has been cancelled but public health must come first. We are all awaiting testing and will remain at the hotel until further notice. I hope those affected make a speedy recovery and there aren’t any further cases #coronavirus
— Chris Froome (@chrisfroome) February 27, 2020
Authorities in the UAE decided to make an early and decisive decision to prevent a possible outbreak, and hope that the event will be rescheduled to later this month.
Olympics and Euro 2020 in doubt?
Tokyo 2020 organisers have claimed that the torch relay before the Olympics – which was due to travel across Japan on March 26 – will be scaled back, although they are not considering calling off events.
International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound stated that organisers would “reluctantly” have to cancel the Games if the coronavirus developed into a serious pandemic.
Dr Brian McCloskey, public health director for the British Olympics in 2012, told the BBC: “It is important to remember there was a huge clamour for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games to be cancelled because of the Zika virus outbreak, but those Games went ahead without any problem.”
The Euros, which are being played across 12 European venues, with Italy hosting the opening match against Turkey in Rome on June 12, could likewise be in doubt if the outbreak continues.
Italian Michele Uva, a member of the UEFA executive committee, told state broadcaster Rai:
We are at the waiting stage. We are monitoring country by country, and football must follow the orders of the individual countries.
The sporting path will only be closed if the situation gets worse.
Liverpool’s first title to be ‘null and voided’?
Finally, perhaps the least likely but by far the most comical, is the concept of Liverpool’s first title being ‘null and voided’. Liverpool are on course to win their first Premier League title ever, 22-points clear with only 10 games left. Whilst a 3-0 defeat at strugglers Watford gave Liverpool fans a scare, the news that the Coronavirus could strip them of their first title will no doubt cause greater fear.
On Friday, the Daily Mail and Telegraph reported that if the season was curtailed by the Coronavirus, there is no guarantee that Liverpool would be crowned Premier League champions.
The Telegraph’s Ben Rumsby writes: “The rapid spread of the virus has raised the prospect of the Government ordering the cancellation of all sporting events in the UK for more than two months, something that could mean some fixtures never being played.”
“Were the Premier League season not completed, it is likely crisis talks would take place to determine whether previous results would be allowed to stand or whether the entire campaign was rendered null and void.”
“Any final ruling could depend on how many fixtures had been played, similar to the results of abandoned matches in some sporting competitions being allowed to stand if a certain percentage of them have been completed.”
The report adds that there is “no specific regulation in place governing such a scenario”, meaning that the current bottom three of Bournemouth, Aston Villa, and Norwich would not necessarily be relegated.
Time will tell whether the outbreak worses and becomes a serious pandemic, to the extent that major sporting events are cancelled. One thing for sure is that sport is no doubt suffering already, with matches and conferences cancelled. Ultimately though, to borrow a phrase from Chris Froome, ‘public health must come first’.
The UK Government are regularly updating their information regarding the outbreak of the COVID-19 Coronavirus. For the most up-to-date information and advice, visit https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-the-public.