The Coronavirus and Sport

By Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw

The Coronavirus outbreak has now been declared by the World Health Organization as ‘a global pandemic’ and is causing widespread disruption around the world – not least in sport.

There are now 100,000 people infected by the virus and 4,000 people have died. Currently, 70 % of cases are in Europe, rather than in Asia, the origin of the outbreak. Italy is leading the way with the most cases officially registered and the country in total lockdown.

As a result of the virus, sporting fixtures and events around the world are being affected. They are either being postponed, cancelled or played without spectators, especially association football.

In Italy, all sporting events have been cancelled until at least 3 April.

In England, the first Premier League game has been postponed, the one between Manchester City and Arsenal, which was due to be played last Wednesday. This action was taken because Arsenal had played Olympiakos two weeks before and some of their players and officials had been in contact with Evangelos Marinakis, the Greek owner of Olympiakos, who has tested positive for the virus. Arsenal head coach, Mikel Arteta, has since tested positive for the virus and first team players at the club have been told to self-isolate. However, the famous Cheltenham Gold Cup horserace meeting has gone ahead with some 70,000 race goers in attendance.

Spain has suspended its two top football divisions for at least two weeks, and the Real Madrid team is in quarantine, after a player in their basketball team tested positive.

In France, all spectators are barred from the top two divisions until 15 April and the League Cup Final between PSG and Lyon, originally due to take place on 4 April, has been postponed indefinitely.

In Portugal and Belgium, all league games will be played ‘behind closed doors’ for at least two weeks and one week respectively. Whilst in Germany, all weekend Bundesliga games will be played without spectators – the first time for the League!

All World Cup qualifying games in Asia have been postponed until the Autumn.

Other sports around the world have been similarly affected.

Mention may be made, amongst others, of Baseball and Rugby, including the current Six Nations’ Championships, and some Winter Sports’ events, including the Alpine World Cup Finals in Italy, where all ski resorts have been closed.

Formula One has not escaped the scourge of the virus either: the McLaren team has withdrawn from the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne this weekend, after a team member tested positive, and the event has since been cancelled; and the one in China, due to take place in April, has already been postponed.

The New York City Half Marathon, scheduled for 15 March, has also been a casualty, as well as the Paris and Barcelona Marathons, which have been postponed until the Autumn. Whilst the Rome Marathon, scheduled for 29 March, has been cancelled.

But what about the Summer Olympics, due to take place in Tokyo in July and August? The IOC maintain that they will take place, although the flame lighting ceremony in Greece, held last Thursday, took place without there being any spectators.

How and when will all this end? That remains to be seen, but we live in hope, of course, of better days ahead – soon!

Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw may be contacted by e-mail at ‘ian.blackshaw@orange.fr’