World sport in meltdown as Covid-19 precautions take priority
Football’s richest league, the English Premiership, is just one of many high-profile sport organisations to suspend competition due to coronavirus precautions after an unprecedented week of turmoil.
Liverpool’s 30-year wait for their first English Premier League title will be deferred by at least three weeks after the Premier League board decided to suspend the competition until 4 April due to the coronavirus pandemic.
At a meeting of the 20 clubs on Friday, following the positive tests of Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea player Callum Hudson-Odoi, it became obvious that matches couldn’t continue in the current conditions.
Liverpool hold a 25-point lead at the top of the standings and need just six more points mathematically to seal their first title since 1990. But that is the least of their, or the Premier League’s, concerns at the moment.
All English competitions, including the second-tier championship and the FA Cup, as well as England friendly internationals, have been suspended.
Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters said in a statement: “Above all, we wish Mikel Arteta and Callum Hudson-Odoi speedy recoveries, and everyone else affected by Covid-19.
“In this unprecedented situation, we are working closely with our clubs, government, the FA and EFL and can reassure everyone the health and welfare of players, staff and supporters are our priority.”
UEFA, the European governing body, ha postponed all of next week’s continental matches.
“In the light of developments due to the spread of Covid-19 in Europe and related decisions made by different governments, all UEFA club competitions matches scheduled next week are postponed,” UEFA said in statement.
“This includes the remaining UEFA Champions League, round of 16 second leg matches scheduled on 17 and 18 March 2020; all UEFA Europa League, round of 16 second leg matches scheduled on 19 March 2020; all UEFA Youth League, quarter-final matches scheduled on 17 and 18 March 2020.
“Further decisions on when these matches take place will be communicated in due course. As a consequence of the postponements, the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League quarter-final draws scheduled for 20 March have also been postponed.”
Proteas to come home from India and Australia women postpone SA tour
The Proteas tour to India has been cancelled, the International Cricket Council (ICC) confirmed on Friday.
Cricket South Africa (CSA) acting chief executive Jacques Faul was in discussions with the Board for Cricket Control in India (BCCI) on Friday afternoon about the status of the Proteas men’s short tour to that country. He confirmed in a text message to Daily Maverick it was off. Full details are not available yet.
South Africa are currently in India for the three-match One-Day International (ODI) Series. The first match in Dharamsala was called off without a balled being bowled due to rain. The second ODI was set to be played behind closed doors in Lucknow on Sunday.
In a blow for women’s cricket, newly crowned T20 world champions Australia’s tour to South Africa has been postponed. The three ODI and three T20-match tour was due to start on 22 March.
“We confirm the postponement of the Australian Women’s tour to South Africa and we understand and respect the decision,” Faul said in a statement. “Cricket South Africa is also closely monitoring the tour of the Protea Men’s team in India and we are in constant consultation with medical and virology experts, stakeholders in government, the BCCI and the team. We will apply our minds to the input of experts and act in a way that reflects our duty of caring for our players.
“I would also like to stress that this decision was not taken lightly and is in the best interest of the players of both teams. CSA will do a full risk assessment on the influence of the virus on our operations, including the current domestic season and following this, we will work with our key cricket partners to find an appropriate window in the international cricket calendar, to stage these matches.”
England have been recalled from their tour to Sri Lanka. The Test series will be rescheduled. The two-Test series was due to begin in Galle on Thursday, 19 March.
“The physical and mental well-being of our players and support teams is paramount,” said the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) in a statement.
“We would like to thank our colleagues at Sri Lanka Cricket for their outstanding support and assistance throughout this situation. We look forward to returning to Sri Lanka in the near future to fulfil this important Test series.”
The Indian Premier League, the sport’s richest tournament, has opted to delay its start from 29 March to 15 April as a result of the pandemic.
“The BCCI is concerned and sensitive about all its stakeholders, and public health in general, and it is taking all necessary steps to ensure that, all people related to IPL including fans have a safe cricketing experience,” the BCCI said in a statement.
“The BCCI will work closely with the Government of India along with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and all other relevant Central and State Government departments in this regard.”
F1, golf and American leagues also suspended
The entire F1 season is in turmoil after a staff member of the McLaren team tested positive in Melbourne, Australia this week. The opening race of the season was scheduled to take place in the city on Sunday.
There is speculation that the Vietnam Grand Prix, which was scheduled to make its debut on the calendar on 5 April through the streets of Hanoi, will be postponed. The Vietnamese government has imposed travel restrictions to that country.
“Following the confirmation that a member of the McLaren Racing Team has tested positive for Covid-19 and the team’s decision to withdraw from the Australian Grand Prix, Formula 1 and the FIA convened a meeting of the other nine team principals on Thursday evening,” a statement from Formula 1 read.
“Those discussions concluded with a majority view of the teams that the race should not go ahead. Formula 1 and the FIA, with the full support of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) have therefore taken the decision that all Formula 1 activity for the Australian Grand Prix are cancelled.
“We appreciate this is very disappointing news for the thousands of fans due to attend the race and all ticket holders will receive a full refund and a further announcement will be communicated in due course.
“All parties took into consideration the huge efforts of the AGPC, Motorsport Australia, staff and volunteers to stage the opening round of the 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship in Melbourne, however, concluded that the safety of all members of the Formula 1 family and the wider community, as well as the fairness of the competition, take priority.”
The season’s second race, in Bahrain on 22 March, was scheduled to be run without spectators, but it has now been postponed and the Chinese Grand Prix, set for 19 April has also been postponed.
In golf, the prestigious Players’ Championship at TPC Sawgrass was called off after the first round on Thursday. The PGA Tour announced the suspension of its schedule until 5 April.
The Masters, the season’s first major, is still set to proceed without fans at this stage. Jordan Spieth, winner of the 2015 Masters, said that it would be a “surreal” experience if that were the case.
“It would be very unusual without hearing the roars echoing through the valley,” he told the media at Sawgrass. “You can feed off a crowd anywhere and it can also add a bit of pressure as well, in certain situations. This isn’t ideal for anyone but I think if you polled the players we would rather have the Masters go on without spectators than not go on at all. I think you would probably get a unanimous vote on that one. But it’s a shame.”
The decision by the PGA came days after all the United States’ other big sporting leagues suspended their seasons. Basketball’s NBA, baseball’s MLB and Ice Hockey’s NHL have all suspended their leagues until further notice.
The Friday 13 March decision to postpone the Ironman Africa Championship in Port Elizabeth by seven months came just 24 hours after organisers said they were satisfied with measures to keep athletes, volunteers and spectators safe.
No Covid-19 cases have been reported in Eastern Cape, but the province’s Department of Health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said there were risks associated with the Ironman competition as thousands of foreign tourists visit Port Elizabeth at this time.
The department said it expressed concern to the organisers of the Ironman, due to be contested on 29 March.
“We want them to postpone the event. We are worried,” said Kupelo.
The Ironman Africa Championship is a premier event for European athletes and it attracts thousands of foreigners, athletes and their families, to Nelson Mandela Bay every year.
On Thursday, organisers said they were pressing ahead with the event. But residents started petitions calling for it to be stopped, highlighting the infection risk, and by Friday had already collected hundreds of signatures.
Similar Ironman events in Greece and Puerto Rico, along with the Superseal Triathlon in California, have been cancelled this week.
Spokesperson for the event Siya Ndzimande said on Friday afternoon that agreement had been reached to postpone the event to 15 November.
“In alignment with the provincial Department of Health, and due to the force majeure Covid-19 pandemic, Ironman race officials in conjunction with local authorities have decided to postpone the 2020 championship in Nelson Mandela Bay. Athletes that are registered for the event will receive an email with further details.
“In what has been a continually evolving and challenging time globally, we recognise that the postponement may come as a disappointment but look forward to providing athletes with an exceptional race experience in the future.”
Earlier in the week, the organisers offered alternative solutions for infection control, such as limiting the use of biometrics, providing gloves for volunteers, making hand sanitiser widely available and ensuring frequent disinfection of touched surfaces.
Also on Friday, the Minister of Health said in a statement﹘later withdrawn ﹘ that there were at least six new cases of Covid-19 confirmed in South Africa and the National Health Laboratory was working on other test results.
By Friday, all patients positive for the virus had recently travelled from Europe, the US or the UK. DM
Additional reporting by Estelle Ellis
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