Covid-19 pandemic puts brakes on world sport
(Update 1: Adds info on Olympic torch procession being cancelled in lede, grafs 2 &3)
By Miguel Ángel Moreno
Madrid, Mar 13 (EFE).- The coronavirus pandemic has ground world sport to a halt, forcing the suspension of most major domestic football leagues in Europe as well as the UEFA Champions League, the NBA, Formula One and MotoGP.
It has also cast questions over wether the Olympic Games scheduled to be held in Tokyo later this year will go ahead.
The Olympic torch relay was postponed by Greek authorities on Friday when crowds tried to turn up to watch actor Gerard Butler light the flame in the ancient city of Sparta, despite being told to stay away.
The Hellenic Olympic Committee said it would halt “the rest of the torch relay on Greek soil.”
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday insisted the Games would go as planned just hours after United States President Donald Trump suggested they be pushed back a year.
The Premier League and the English Football League became the latest major domestic trophies to freeze their schedules on Friday while Uefa suspended next week’s matches in the Champions League and the Europa League.
The Premier League’s decision to stop until April – a period that includes an international break that could yet be affected – came after Chelsea player Callum Hudson-Odoi and Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta tested positive for Covid-19. At least six teams went into self-isolation.
Domestic leagues in Germany and France announced similar measures on Friday, joining Spain’s LaLiga, Italy’s Serie A, The Dutch Eredivisie and Portugal’s Primeira Liga.
The last game to be played in front of a full crowd the Champions League was Atletico Madrid’s 2-3 away win at Liverpool, which was attended by 3,000 travelling fans despite rumours it could be played behind closed doors, something that Paris Saint-Germain had decided to do when they beat Borussia Dortmund 2-0 the day before.
News then emerged that Juventus defender Daniele Rugani had tested positive for the virus, requiring the entire first team, including Cristiano Ronaldo, to self-isolate.
The Europa League went ahead on Thursday except for those games involving teams from the countries that have been worst-hit by the coronavirus outbreak, Spain and Italy, with fixtures between Sevilla and Roma, and Inter and Getafe scrapped for now.
The two Uefa competitions fork out around 2.5 billion euros between competing clubs, around 166 million of which in the Champions League and 34.6 million in the Europa League is up in the air depending on how organizers decide to resume course.
Spain’s LaLiga was suspended earlier this week when Real Madrid’s first team went into quarantine.
In the case that the season is abandoned, clubs could lose out on 678.4 million euros between TV rights and ticket sales combined.
One of the most lucrative competitions in the world was felled by Covid-19 on Wednesday having previously tried to ensure its continuation with health precautions similar to those adopted by Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and MLS soccer, which included playing without fans and postponing individual matches.
But when Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive just before he was due to play against Oklahoma City Thunder, the game was up and the NBA was suspended. It could cost the league hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.