A view of the empty Juventus stadium, as a measure against coronavirus contagion, prior to the Serie A soccer match between Juventus and Inter. Serie A played on Sunday despite calls from Italy’s sports minister and players’ association president to suspend the games in Italy’s top soccer division. Photo: Marco Alpozzi/LaPresse via AP
A view of the empty Juventus stadium, as a measure against coronavirus contagion, prior to the Serie A soccer match between Juventus and Inter. Serie A played on Sunday despite calls from Italy’s sports minister and players’ association president to suspend the games in Italy’s top soccer division. Photo: Marco Alpozzi/LaPresse via AP

Indian Wells off, football without fans as sport reacts to coronavirus

By Barry Whelan Time of article published Mar 9, 2020

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BERLIN – Sports authorities are continuing to react to the outbreak of the coronavirus by calling off events or holding competition without spectators.

The Indian Wells men's and women's tennis tournament in California - one of the top tennis attractions outside of the Grand Slams - was the latest major event to be cancelled due to concerns about the virus.

However, Sunday's season-opening Australian Formula One Grand Prix is set to go ahead as planned in Melbourne with fans in attendance, race officials said.

Football was further hit, with a decision to play the Champions League match between Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday behind closed doors.

It is the second Champions League last-16 second-leg match this week to be played in an empty stadium after Valencia v Atalanta on Tuesday.

Police in Paris said the decision was taken in line with government decisions announced on Sunday night as the number of confirmed coronavirus infections in France passed 1,100.

RB Leipzig's Champions League game at home to Tottenham Hotspur is meanwhile going ahead with fans, it was decided Monday after a meeting between club officials and local health authorities.

Germany's health minister, Jens Spahn, had Sunday recommended cancelling events with more than 1,000 participants in an effort to reduce the number of coronavirus infections.

The German Football League (DFL) said it was now preparing to hold matches in the Bundesliga this weekend behind closed doors but the final decision will be with the relevant authorities.

"We would prefer to have the next matchday with spectators but that is unfortunately not realistic," DFL chief executive Christian Seifert told a live talk organized by Bild daily.

Seifert ruled out matches being called off. "We have decided the matchday takes places ... With how many spectators and if without any is a decision the authorities will have to take," he said.

In a statement Sunday, Seifert had said there was "no question" that the Bundesliga season would be played to its scheduled end in May.

The coronavirus has continued to disrupt the fixture programme in Asia, with world governing body FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) postponing upcoming World Cup qualifiers in March and June.

Some games may still go ahead provided the safety of all individuals involved meets the required standards and with the mutual agreement of the member associations, FIFA said.

Indian Wells organizers cited "concerns surrounding the coronavirus and the safety of the participants and attendees at the event," for the tournament cancellation.

The first round of the tournament, the first ATP Masters 1000 and WTA Premier Mandatory event of the year, was set to begin on Wednesday.

Three-time Indian Wells winner Rafael Nadal said on Twitter: "You probably all heard the news. Indian Wells cancelled. We are here and still deciding what's next. So sad for all that is happening around the world with this situation. Hopefully soon solutions from the authorities. Stay all well and safe."

As teams and equipment began arriving this week for the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, motorsport federation FIA said it was "closely monitoring the evolving situation" with member clubs, governments and the World Health Organization.

"The FIA will evaluate the calendar of its forthcoming races and, if necessary, take any action required to help protect the global motor sport community and the wider public," a statement said.

Spectators will not be allowed to attend the Bahrain Grand Prix a week after the Australian race. The Chinese Grand Prix, which was scheduled for April 19 in Shanghai, had already been postponed.

In rugby, the Six Nations match between France and Ireland on March 14 was the latest fixture in the competition to be postponed.

Italy's March 14 match at home to England, and Ireland v Italy, which would have been played Saturday in Dublin, were already postponed.

Elsewhere, Japan's professional baseball league will delay the start of the season. Both the Central and Pacific leagues were to open on March 20, while pre-season games are being played in empty stadiums.

"I personally believe that we have no choice to postpone at this point," Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) commissioner Atsushi Saito told a news conference. "We are aiming to open the season in April."

It is the first time NPB's regular season has been delayed since Japan's north-east was hit by an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, which caused a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

Football's J-League has also decided to extend the suspension of all games. The league had already postponed until mid-March. The league is aiming to resume play on April 3.

On Sunday, the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament opened at an empty arena in the western city of Osaka. The 15-day tournament is taking place behind closed doors after the Japan Sumo Association made the unprecedented move to keep out spectators due to the outbreak.

dpa

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