A time defined by fear: how Coronavirus is affecting our sporting world

With everyone's minds on one topic this month, our sports writers take a look at the impact that Coronavirus has had on the sporting world

Sesha Subramanian
23rd March 2020
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England - Phillip Etchells

All elite football in England has been postponed until 3 April to combat the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19). On Friday 13 March, the Premier League, EFL, FA Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship collectively agreed to suspend all professional football matches until at least 3 April due to fears about the spread of Covid-19. The National League is still going ahead with games as of writing. 

On Monday 9, The UK Department of Cultural, Media and Sport stated that there was “no rationale” for cancelling sporting events. However, the following day a fixture between Manchester City and Arsenal was called off as a “precautionary” measure, after Olympiakos’ owner revealed he had contracted the virus. Evangelos Marinakis, who is also the owner of Nottingham Forest, attended Olympiakos’ Europa League tie at Arsenal on 27 February. The Premier League announced there were no plans to postpone any other matches and all “necessary precautions” were being taken. A contingency plan to play games behind closed doors was being discussed in order to combat the spread of the virus, as done in some European countries.

However, the decision to suspend all professional football until 3 April came on Friday 13 after Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta tested positive. Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi became the first player to contract the virus and a number of players and staff at Premier League clubs have gone into self-isolation.

A concern is whether the season will even finish. There are only two midweek dates (22 April and 12 May) between now and the end of the season to rearrange matches. Financially, this suspension means top flight clubs may lose between £1-6 million in TV money. Whilst this may not be an issue for major clubs, for lower-league teams, who rely on their matchday income, the postponement may cause major problems.

Spain - Amy Harris

Spain’s top football division, La Liga, has been suspended, with all football matches being postponed for “at least” two weeks.

After La Liga ordered football club Real Madrid to be quarantined, due to the fear of the Coronavirus spreading, the league’s committee acted further and concluded in a statement that all football matches would be postponed for a minimum of two weeks.

All decisions were made after it was found that a Real Madrid basketball player, who shares the same training grounds and facilities as the football club in Ciudad Real Madrid, was tested positive with COVID-19. As a result, Real Madrid players and the basketball first team are self-isolating for 15 days.

Originally only Real Madrid’s match against Manchester City on Tuesday was postponed due to the need for players to self-isolate to the reduce risk of spreading the virus. The next two rounds of fixtures were to be played behind closed doors after receiving advice from Spain’s ministry of health. However, after numerous cases emerged in the Premier League and throughout other sporting events, it was decided to suspend football matches completely.

With their website stating:

"Given the circumstances that are coming to light this morning, referring to the quarantine established in Real Madrid and the possible cases in players from other clubs, LaLiga considers it appropriate to continue to the next phase of the protocol of action against COVID-19.  As a result, in accordance with the measures established in Royal Decree 664/1997 of May 12, it agrees to postpone at least the next two match days."

LaLiga - 2020 (www.laliga.com)

La Liga is said to be evaluating the situation closely and as soon as the teams have completed their time in quarantine the situation can be re-assessed in case of more affected clubs and situations arising in the meantime.

China - Sesha Subramanian

Being the very first country to be hit by the COVID-19, it was no surprise that China saw a number of sporting events in the country cancelled. But one of the highest profile events to get cancelled in the country was the Formula One Chinese Grand Prix which is usually held at the Shanghai International Circuit.

The Chinese GP has been on the Formula One calendar since 2004. It has been the site of some of the most exciting races in history. The first ever race in 2004 was won by Rubens Barrichello of Ferrari. Fernando Alonso won the constructors title for Renault in 2005 here and Michael Schumacher's last F1 victory came in China.

There were many doubts initially as to whether or not the GP would go ahead once the severity of COVID-19 was established but eventually, the authorities deemed it far too big a risk to have the race go ahead even behind closed doors. So the decision, taken sometime in February, was that the venue which had hosted the 1000th race in Formula One would not host a race in 2020 for the foreseeable future.

F1 was not the only motorsport event to get cancelled in the country as only a few days before, the Formula E Grand Prix in Sanya was cancelled for the same reason. As time passed, more postponement would follow within F1 as the opening Australian GP was postponed following the news that a member of McLaren F1 had tested positive. Soon, Bahrain and Vietnam which were the next two races on the calendar would also be subjected to the same outcome. As of now the European part of the calendar has not been changed but given the disease's impact on the continent, it is likely that a majority of races will be postponed or cancelled.

Italy - Colm Williams

With over 1,400 deaths at time of writing from Covid-19, Italy are experiencing the worst outbreak in Europe. It is now experiencing a harrowing morality rate of 7.17%.  The nation has been put into complete lockdown which has seriously impacted all major sports in the country.

Football, Italy’s most popular sport, has been significantly affected by the spread of coronavirus. At first fixtures were moved behind closed doors for games in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto on 23 February. Later games such as the Inter Milan vs Juventus fixture, which was key in a tight title race, were also moved behind closed doors in Turin. However, Serie A was suspended until 3 April due to the Italian government's decree issued on Monday.

Furthermore, the Italian football governing body has said the season may not be completed although alternative options are being assessed. This comes as Juventus defender Daniele Rugani tested positive for Covid-19 on 11 March, resulting in his star teammate Cristiano Ronaldo refusing to return to Turin. Several other Serie A players have since tested positive including former Southampton forward Manolo Gabbiadini. Gabbiadini’s team Sampdoria have since had four more positive test results for payers as well as their team doctor. 

Thoughts go out to all teams and athletes who will all face extreme uncertainty over the future plans of Serie A which will place a financial strain which could result in the loss of a number of jobs and smaller clubs suffering. There is also uncertainty over whether there will be relegation, who will be crowned champions and who will qualify for the lucrative European football. However, it is important to remember that the cancellation of these games will hopefully reduce the fatal impact of Covid-19 in Italy.

Japan - Amanda Goh

With the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially recognising the Covid-19 as a global pandemic, organisers for major sporting events have been facing difficult decisions, this including Japan with the Tokyo Olympics. The Tokyo Olympics are currently being threatened by the covid-19, which has taken the lives of over 20 people in Japan. The Olympic Games are the leading international sporting event which features both summer and winter sport competitions. Occurring every 4 years, the 2020 Olympics are due to take place in Tokyo from 24 July to 9 August.

Sources at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stress that nothing has changed, vis a vis the plans for the Games. President Donald Trump had suggested postponing the Tokyo Olympics due to the spread of the virus. However, this was shot down by Seiko Hashimoto in a news conference on 13 March in Tokyo. "The IOC and the organising committee "are not considering cancellation or a postponement," she mentions.

Cancellation of the Games would be made by the IOC. Dick Pound, a member of the IOC, noted that a decision to cancel could be made as late as May. Cancelling or postponing the Games will result in a ripple effect, hitting sponsors, athletes, staffs, airlines, and ticket sales.

IOC had oversaw the Olympic flame-lighting ceremony in Greece on 12 March. President of the IOC, Thomas Bach, stated that, "this ceremony demonstrates once more our commitment to the success of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020". He had also praised officials that have been taking on significant measures to contain the virus spread. Whilst since then, the Greek Olympic Committee had suspended the remainder of the Olympic torch relay through the country in order to avoid attracting crowds.

Although the handover of the flame to the Tokyo 2020 Game organisers is still set to take place on 19 March, whether the Olympic Cauldron will be lit in July is still unknown.

India - Rebecca Johnson

Arguably one of the biggest franchises in T20 cricket, if not the biggest, the Indian Premier League found itself another victim of the Coronavirus outbreak. With big names like Virat Kohli, Ben Stokes and Steve Smith lined up to compete, the cancellation is a necessary yet disappointing one for cricket fans all over the world.

It was announced on March 13 that the tournament’s start had been “delayed” due to the ongoing pandemic.

The IPL is one of the most hotly contested T20 cricket tournaments around at the moment. Full of star-studded teams, smashing sixes and wacky wickets, it’s no wonder the tournament is a firm favourite amongst cricket fans all over the world. In the draft for the 2020 tournament, a vast amount of England players were due to pad up and play in front of some of the wildest cricket crowds around.

England all-rounder Sam Curran was purchased by Chennai Super Kings for £590k, becoming the most expensive English player in this draft. Captain Eoin Morgan was sold for £550k to the Kolkata Knight Riders. Elsewhere, Australian fast bowler, Pat Cummins became the most expensive overseas IPL player in history, fetching for an astonishing £1.6 million to KKR.

Elsewhere, Jofra Archer, Ben Stokes and Steve Smith returned to the Rajasthan Royals. England batsman Jonny Bairstow joined Sunrisers Hyderabad alongside Australia’s David Warner and New Zealand’s Kane Williamson. India’s superstar captain Virat Kohli remains at Royal Challengers Bangalore, where he’s played since the IPL’s beginning in 2008.

Pakistan - Rebecca Johnson

One of the many things cancelled due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic is the Pakistan Super League. After the initial outbreak of the virus, the T20 format style cricket competition started to condense down and still play games but was brought to a complete halt last week after one player started to develop Coronavirus-like symptoms.

The tournament opened last month, with the Quetta Gladiators beating Islamabad United by three wickets. The semi-finals were due to be played last Tuesday, as top of the table side, the Multan Sultans, were scheduled to play Peshawar Zalmi and the Lahore Qalandars playing away to the Karachi Kings. However, the semi-finals and final have been postponed due to the ongoing pandemic.

Karachi Kings batsman, Alex Hales, returned home from the tournament and developed symptoms like that of the Coronavirus. The England player has gone into self-isolation after developing a dry cough and a fever.

Although it wasn’t the way organisers wanted the tournament to end, there have still been some incredible highlights and stats from the competition. Ben Dunk twice set the record for the most sixes hit in one game, he broke the record hitting ten sixes before finishing on 12 sixes hit in his innings. Batsman Kamran Akmal also hit the largest score in this edition of the PSL, scoring 101 for Peshawar Zalmi.

It is unsure as of yet if the tournament will resume once the pandemic calms down. However, all teams will be wanting the tournament to resume as soon as possible, especially table toppers the Multan Sultans who will be itching for their chance to win.

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