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How coronavirus could affect the London Marathon, Olympics, Six Nations, and other sporting events in 2020

The worldwide outbreak of coronavirus had led to the death of more than 3,000 people and in a bid to contain its spread, sporting events around the world are being moved or cancelled.

Ireland vs Italy, a men’s Six Nations clash, was cancelled last Wednesday, while the Formula 1 China Grand Prix has also been called off.

There are also questions about events taking place later this year, including the 2020 Olympics and Euro 2020, while the UK government has not ruled out banning public events where large crowds gather.

Here is the latest news on those and across sport.

Olympics

  • Status: uncertain, but preparations going on as normal

Japan’s Olympics minister signalled the Summer Games would go ahead as planned from July even as the coronavirus outbreak spread to new parts of the country.

“Based on the fact that the IOC never mentioned about cancelling or postponing the Tokyo Games at its meeting yesterday, I don’t expect a cancellation notice or anything of that sort,” Seiko Hashimoto said in parliament on Thursday.

The minister had caused controversy earlier this week by saying the contract for the games “could be interpreted as allowing a postponement” within calendar 2020.

Japan’s western prefecture of Shiga reported its first coronavirus infection on Thursday, a day after the announcement of a first case in the southern prefecture of Miyazaki.

National broadcaster NHK also reported new coronavirus infections in Kyoto, Sapporo and Niigata.

Confirmed cases had risen to 1,036 nationwide as of Thursday morning, 36 more than the previous day, according to NHK. That was the biggest one-day increase to date.

The rapid spread of the virus has raised questions about whether Tokyo can host the Olympics as scheduled from July 24, with the effects being felt by other sporting events.

On Wednesday, the Japanese Rugby Football Union announced that next month’s Asia Sevens Invitational, which doubles as a test event for rugby sevens at the Tokyo Olympics, has been cancelled due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.

The Tokyo marathon was held this month without the participation of non-elite runners, and with fewer volunteers and spectators.

Twelve people have died from the disease in Japan, according to the health ministry.

Hashimoto told the upper house on Thursday that organisers and the IOC would continue to work together closely, and reiterated the final decision on holding the games as planned rests with the IOC.

“Cancellation or delay of the Games would be unacceptable for the athletes,” Hashimoto said. “An environment where athletes can feel at ease and focus should be firmly prepared.”

Under the host city contract, the IOC has the right to terminate the contract if it has reasonable grounds to believe the safety of the Games would be seriously threatened.

But IOC head Thomas Bach on Wednesday voiced confidence the Games would go ahead, saying organisers were receiving expert information from the World Health Organization and others and that the words “postponement” and “cancellation” had not been mentioned at the IOC’s executive board meeting.

Some Tokyo residents, however, expressed concerns.

“I think the Olympics should be cancelled in this case because it is a dangerous situation,” 77-year-old Yufumi Tamaki told Reuters on Thursday. “I feel sorry for the athletes and the people who have prepared for the Games, but it is more important to save lives.”

Organisers have made provisions to cancel Tokyo 2020 in the event of a massive earthquake or other natural disaster, Japan’s Mainichi newspaper reported.

Reuters

Euro 2020

  • Status: uncertain and being monitored

Fears are mounting that coronavirus could throw this summer’s European Championship into chaos – but governing body Uefa says the decision rests in the hands of local government.

“We’re in touch with the authorities, we’re in the hands of the local authorities, and we’ll deal with whatever they tell us,” a Uefa spokesman said.

“There wasn’t much discussion about it because there is not much we can do about it… it’s in the hands of those people who were experts in the situation.”

The deadly disease has struck several countries scheduled to co-host the first pan-continental Euros, with Spain joining the UK, Germany, Russia and Italy.

Uefa has been discussing coronavirus at its Amsterdam meeting this week. While it maintains Euro 2020 will go ahead as scheduled, there are question marks around play-off semi-finals due to take place this month and Champions League matches.

Football

  • Status: Handshakes banned in Premier League; 

Players in England’s Premier League will forgo the traditional pre-game handshake between opponents as a measure to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus, the league said on Thursday.

“The Premier League fair-play handshake will not take place between players and match officials from this weekend until further notice based on medical advice,” a statement said.

“Coronavirus is spread via droplets from the nose and mouth and can be transmitted on to the hands and passed on via a handshake.”

Officials will carry out the rest of the league’s normal walk-out protocol before each match and both teams will line up as usual, but players will walk post their opponents without shaking hands.

Clubs in English soccer’s top division including Newcastle United, Southampton, West Ham United and Wolverhampton Wanderers have banned handshakes at training sessions and other European clubs have taken similar measures to prevent spreading the virus.

Newcastle head coach Steve Bruce fears it is “pretty inevitable” that Premier League games will be played behind closed doors as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

The authorities in Italy have introduced a ban on mass gatherings which has hit sports events, and Bruce believes it is only a matter of time before the same happens in the UK.

Speaking at his pre-match press conference on Friday morning, he said: “It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? But obviously, they’re doing it now in Italy and it’s something we’re probably going to face.

“We all know football is a way out for everybody, but people’s lives are at stake and we’ve got to go by the authorities.

“But it looks pretty inevitable that could be on the cards.”

Five Italian Serie A matches which were postponed between Feb 29 and March 2 because of the coronavirus outbreak, including the heavyweight clash between Juventus and Inter Milan, will take place on Sunday, the league said in a statement on Thursday.

The matches will all be played without spectators following a government decree on Wednesday. The government has barred the public from all sports events until April 3 in a bid to curb Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreak.

Saturday’s Ligue 1 game between RC Strasbourg and champions Paris St Germain has been postponed amid the coronavirus outbreak, the French League (LFP) said on Friday.

Just one club being hit by the coronavirus outbreak would make the Scottish football season “very difficult” to complete, the Scottish Professional Football League’s chief executive Neil Doncaster has said.

Meanwhile, Ajax assistant coach Christian Poulsen and two other members of the Dutch club’s coaching staff have been told to stay at home due to concerns over coronavirus.

Poulsen, exercise physiologist Alessandro Schoenmaker and an unnamed physiotherapist are in isolation after attending a birthday party on Friday with someone who has since tested positive for Covid-19.

Club spokesperson Miel Brinkhuis told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf: “It is true that there are three preventative employees at home. The trio have no complaints.”

Rugby and Six Nations

  • Status: Italy v Ireland and Italy v England postponed; Scotland’s women’s Six Nations match off

Scotland’s match against France in the Women’s Six Nations that was scheduled to take place in Glasgow on Saturday has been postponed after a Scottish player tested positive for coronavirus.

Scottish Rugby said the player had been “admitted to a health care facility as part of the protocol but was otherwise well” and that seven members of management and players were self-isolating on medical advice.

The Scotland team returned from northern Italy on Sunday, February 23 after their match against Italy was postponed.

A Scottish Rugby statement said: “This decision has been taken together with Scottish Rugby, the French Rugby Federation (FFR) and Six Nations. The Six Nations CEO has been in constant contact with Scottish Rugby and is in full support of this decision. The Scottish Government has also been briefed.”

The men’s Scotland v France match at Murrayfield on Sunday will go ahead as scheduled.

England’s Six Nations game against Italy on March 14 in Rome has also been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Tournament organisers faced the option of playing the game behind closed doors at the Stadio Olimpico or delaying it until later in the year and have chosen the latter option.

It is the second game of the 2020 Six Nations to be postponed after Ireland’s clash with Italy in Dublin on Saturday was also called off on public health grounds.

As yet there is no indication whether the surviving four games of the competition are under threat.

London Marathon

  • Status: going ahead but being monitored

The organisers of the London Marathon are ‘closely monitoring’ the spread of the coronavirus.

Concern has been mounting over the race that is scheduled to take place on April 26. The Tokyo Marathon took the decision to restrict the number of entrants that could run. Instead of 38,000 taking part, organisers only allowed 176 elite athletes and 30 wheelchair athletes to compete in the race on March 1.

A decision is not expected to be made about the London Marathon until closer to the event.

Hugh Brasher, Event Director at London Marathon Events, told Runner’s World: “We, along with the rest of the world, are monitoring closely the developments relating to the spread of coronavirus and noting the updates and advice given by the UK Government, the World Health Organisation and other public bodies.

“With two months to go before the event on Sunday 26 April, we will continue to monitor the situation.”

Formula 1 and Formula E

  • Status: China GP postponed; Australia and Bahrain going ahead, the latter behind closed doors

The Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix this month will be held without fans in attendance due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak, organisers said on Sunday.

The Gulf Arab state, which is hosting the second round of the Formula One season on March 22, has reported 83 cases of the virus, mostly linked to people who had travelled to Iran.

The FIA had already called off the Chinese Grand Prix.

Organisers have insisted the opening two rounds of the Formula One season in Australia (March 15) and Bahrain (March 22) are scheduled to go ahead as planned.

F1 personnel who have visited high-risk countries within 14 days of their arrival in the Gulf Kingdom will be subjected to an extensive screening process.

Formula E race scheduled for Rome on April 4 will not take place due to the coronavirus, the all-electric series announced on Friday.

The race is the second this season to be called off due to the virus. A Chinese Formula E round in Sanya has already been postponed from March 21.

Italy has ordered all major sporting events throughout the country, including top-flight Serie A soccer games, to be played without fans for one month in a bid to curb Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreak.

“As a consequence of the ongoing health emergency in Italy…it will no longer be possible to stage the Rome E-Prix on April 4,” Formula E said.

The series said it would assess the possibility of holding the race once restrictions had been lifted.

The next race on the calendar will now be Paris on April 18.

Reuters

Cycling

  • Status: Milan-Sanremo and Strade Bianche cancelled

The Milan-Sanremo one-day race has been cancelled as well as two other cycling events in Italy, the European country worst-hit by the coronavirus outbreak, organisers said on Friday.

“Following the confirmation by the relevant authorities that they are unable to grant appropriate authorisations, RCS Sport announces that the cycling race Tirreno-Adriatico, scheduled for 11-17 March, is cancelled from its original dates,” RCS said in a statement.

“Furthermore… to guarantee the safeguarding of public health and the safety of all the people involved, RCS Sport has made the decision to cancel Milan-Sanremo, scheduled for 21 March, and Il Giro di Sicilia, scheduled for 1-4 April.”

Milan-Sanremo is one of cycling’s five ‘Monument’ classics, along with Paris-Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders, the Tour of Lombardy and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

RCS, who had already cancelled Saturday’s Strade Bianche, added that they would ask the International Cycling Union (UCI) to find new dates for the races in question.

There have been over 3,000 coronavirus cases and more than 100 deaths in Italy and a government decree ruled on Wednesday that sporting events must be held without fans.

Reuters

Athletics

  • Status: Paris Marathon off, World Indoor Championships cancelled

The Paris marathon has been postponed from April 5 to Oct. 18 due to the coronavirus outbreak, organisers said on Thursday.

The World Indoor Championships, which had been due to take place in Nanjing in China this month, have been called off, while the Hong Kong Marathon – scheduled for February 8 – was also cancelled.

Golf

  • Status: Cancelled tournaments in Asia

The Maybank Championship in Malaysia and the Volvo China Open in Shenzhen have both been postponed because of the outbreak.

The PGA Tour Series-China confirmed two qualifying tournaments scheduled for Bintan, Indonesia and Phuket in Thailand have been postponed. The knock-on impact means the four opening competitions – the Sanya Championship (March 23-29), the Haikou Classic (March 30-April 5), the Chongqing Championship (April 6-12) and the Guangzhou Open (April 13-19) – will now not go ahead as originally planned.

The HSBC Women’s World Championships was set for Singapore at the end of February, but along with the Honda LPGA Thailand in Pattaya, have both been called off. The Blue Bay LPGA, scheduled for the start of March on the southern Chinese island of Hainan, will now also not take place due to continued health concerns in the region.

Tennis

  • Status: Indian Wells goes ahead; ATP Challenger Tour events cancelled

Players will be banned from handing their towels to ball-kids at next week’s BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, organisers said on Friday.

The exchange of sweaty towels between players and ball-kids between points has long been a source of contention in the sport due to hygiene reasons. Tournament officials said players will have to place and fetch towels themselves – a chair will be placed at the back of the court for their use.

Ball-kids will also wear gloves.

A number of ATP Challenger Tour events scheduled to take place in China in March and April have been cancelled, while the final of the Challenger in Bergamo, Italy, last month was also called off.

The Davis Cup qualifier between Japan and Ecuador in Miki on March 6-7 will be played behind closed doors, while China have withdrawn from their Davis Cup World Group I play-off against Romania on the same dates.

The WTA announced that the Xi’an Open (April 13-19) and Kunming Open (April 27-May 3) – both set to be held in China – were cancelled, but, as things stand, were proceeding with the remainder of the season as planned.

Elsewhere:

Motorcycling

The opening race of the MotoGP season, the Grand Prix of Qatar due to take place from March 6-8, was cancelled due to the travel restrictions imposed in the country. On Monday, the second race on this year’s calendar – the Thailand Grand Prix, scheduled for March 22 – was also postponed, with organisers evaluating when the event could go ahead.

Basketball

As fears over the coronavirus outbreak continue to grow and sports leagues around the globe make contingency plans, the NBA on Friday reportedly sent a memo to teams telling them to begin “developing” plans to play games with no fans or media in attendance.

According to ESPN and The Athletic, the memo advised teams to have plans in place in case “it were to become necessary to play a game with only essential staff present.” Having only essential staff present, according to the reports, would mean fans and media members would not be among those allowed at the games.

AP

Boxing

The Ireland boxing squad cut short a pre-Olympic qualifier training camp in Italy as a precautionary measure last week. Meanwhile, all boxing shows scheduled for March in Japan have been cancelled.

Badminton

Seven Indian badminton players have pulled out of next week’s All England Open championships over coronavirus fears, the Badminton Association of India said, as the outbreak continues to disrupt sport events across the world.

The Badminton World Federation has not yet made any adjustments to its Olympic qualification rules despite the cancellation of some tournaments in which ranking points were available. The German Open (March 3-8), Polish Open (March 26-29) and Vietnam International Challenge (March 24-29) have been postponed or cancelled after the China Masters (February 25-March 1) was called off last month. The BWF has said not enough tournaments have yet been hit for changes to be made.

Snooker

The £1million China Open, scheduled to start in Beijing at the end of March, has been cancelled.

Ice Skating

The World Short Track Speed Skating Championships, scheduled to take place in Seoul this month, have been called off.

Triathlon

The World Triathlon Series event scheduled for March 5-7 in Abu Dhabi was delayed. Event organisers said they hoped to reschedule the event to take place later in March or April.

Skiing

The Alpine skiing World Cup finals in Cortina d’Ampezzo have been cancelled amid the coronavirus outbreak, the Italian winter sports federation (FISI) said on Friday.

“It’s with great regret that I took this decision,” said FISI president Flavio Roda after every nation but Italy voted against holding the March 18-22 finals at an International Skiing Federation (FIS) emergency meeting.

“But every member of the council motivated their decision to cancel the finals.”

The men’s season will be concluded by speed events this weekend in Kvitfjell, Norway, and technical events the following weekend in Krajska Gora, Slovenia.

Sumo wrestling

Japan’s sumo wrestlers faced off for the spring grand tournament on Sunday in front of empty seats in Osaka, western Japan, with fans asked to stay away to help limit the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

Japan Sumo Association Chairman Hakkaku said it would be difficult for wrestlers to prepare mentally for the tournament without spectators but that they would nevertheless compete to the utmost of their ability during matches.

“All of the wrestlers will hear fans cheering in their hearts and do their best to meet expectations,” he said.

Biathlon

Czech authorities confirmed on Monday afternoon that this week’s World Biathlon Cup in South Moravia would be closed to spectators.

Darts

The Professional Darts Corporation said it currently has no plans to cancel any events, but has told players they can avoid shaking hands with their opponents while fans have been warned it “may be more difficult to obtain autographs or pictures with players”.

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