Football takes stock after coronavirus brings sport to a halt
BERLIN – Football in Europe's major leagues was in crisis mode Saturday after all matches were suspended as the coronavirus pandemic laid waste to the sporting calendar.
Few events were left standing after a week which saw most sports cancel or postpone competitions, with golf's prestigious Masters tournament set for next month and Formula One's four opening races among events now off.
However, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe repeated that the Tokyo Olympic Games would go ahead as planned from July 24 to August 9.
"We will overcome the spread of the infection and host the Olympics without problem, as planned," the BBC quoted Abe saying on Saturday.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has the final decision on whether Tokyo 2020 goes ahead, he added.
The coronavirus outbreak has left the major leagues and European competitions in abeyance ahead of this summer pan-European Euro 2020 tournament.
World governing body FIFA's executive has now recommended all international matches in March and April be postponed.
Several internationals including play-offs for Euro 2020 had already been called off or were to take place behind closed doors as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
European body UEFA is meeting on Tuesday to discuss the June 12-July 12 European Championship, set to be played across 12 European countries, as well as the status of the Champions League and Europa League competitions.
It is thought Euro 2020 could be postponed for a year, which would also allow the possibility of leagues being able to end their seasons later than planned.
Gianni Infantino joins @DrTedros in @WHO #SafeHands Challenge. Practical actions protect & promote the health of all people. We must act now. Be prepared & ready to kick out #COVID19. Gianni challenges @alexmorgan13 @alexscott @didierdrogba @Kaka @NiallOfficial & YOU to join in. pic.twitter.com/6zSnaVVXDD— FIFA.com (@FIFAcom) March 14, 2020
In a statement FIFA said the bureau of the FIFA Council – the body's executive committee – has decided that the general rules which normally oblige clubs to release players for national team matches will not apply for the international windows in March and April.
"FIFA understands that to hold the matches under current circumstances might not only present potential health risks to players (and to the general public) but would also, most likely, compromise the sporting integrity of such matches insofar as certain teams may be deprived of their best squads whilst others may not," a statement said.
All internationals in March and April should now be postponed, it recommended, but indicated it would be up to UEFA to decide on the Euro 2020 play-offs.
"The final decision on this issue rests with the respective competition organizers or relevant member association in case of friendlies," the statement said.
Qualifying matches for the World Cup in Asia and South America have already been postponed.
Among the latest matches called off was Germany's friendly international against Italy on March 26 in Nuremberg following an order by the city government.
UEFA already effectively suspended its Champions League and Europa League competitions indefinitely by postponing all last 16 second leg ties scheduled for next week.
Quarter-final draws for both competitions have also been postponed.
Premier League clubs have been united in their backing to suspend all fixtures in the top flight English league until at least April 3.
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp said the decision was a simple one.
"If it's a choice between football and the good of the wider society, it's no contest, really, it isn't," Klopp said on Liverpool's website.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta meanwhile said he was "feeling better already," less than 24 hours after announcing he had tested positive for the new coronavirus.
Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi had also tested positive for the virus, while Everton, Watford and Leicester all had players in self-isolation.
Eleven Serie A players have now also tested positive for the virus, with Sampdoria's Sampdoria's Fabio Depaoli and Bartosz Bereszynsk the latest to declare. The Genoa side now have seven players infected and said it would not release more information about its footballers.
Paderborn defender Luca Kilian became the first Bundesliga player reported with an infection, and the club said some of the squad had been placed in quarantine for 14 days at home. The team doctor carried out 45 tests on players and staff.
Some Bundesliga clubs continued to train on Saturday and were then planning to give players some days off.
RB Leipzig and Borussia Moenchengladbach were among clubs to hold training sessions. Leipzig said the players would have Sunday and Monday off before resuming individual training on Tuesday.
"From Friday we will train normally again and start preparing for the game against Hertha (Berlin)," sport director Markus Kroesche said of the next scheduled match on April 4.
However, the German Football League is holding a meeting of members on Monday to discuss how to proceed with the rest of the season.
In motorsport, Formula One is in talks with the Dutch and Spanish Grands Prix organizers after the first four races of the 2020 season have now been called off.
The Australian Grand Prix was cancelled on Friday morning after a member of the McLaren team in Melbourne tested positive for coronavirus. Later the Bahrain GP and the Vietnam's inaugural grand prix were postponed, while the Chinese Grand Prix had already been postponed.
The next two races on the calendar are the May 3 Dutch Grand Prix and the Spanish Grand Prix a week later.
Dutch race officials said they were in consultations with F1 and motorsport federation FIA "about the possible consequences" for the race in Zandvoort.
Spanish Grand Prix officials announced all events at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya scheduled to take place up to mid-April would be postponed.
That does not cover the planned grand prix weekend but the organizers said the were "already analyzing the different available options with Formula 1."
The Spanish Grand Prix would be followed by the Monaco Grand Prix on May 24, with the Azerbaijan GP set to follow on June 7.
Elsewhere, the International Triathlon Union has suspended all activities until April 30, including all competitions in the World Triathlon calendar and qualification races for the Tokyo Olympics.
Upcoming ironman events in South Africa, Texas and Taiwan and nine half ironman races have also been postponed.
And curling cancelled the men's world championships in Scotland and the mixed and senior championships in Canada.
As planning continues for the Tokyo Olympics, the city governor, Yuriko Koike, said thorough measures would be taken against the coronavirus outbreak for the Olympic torch relay in Japan.
Her comments, reported by Mainichi Shimbun daily, came after the torch relay in Greece was abandoned Friday when crowds turned out at for the relay in Sparta against advice.
The torch relay through Japan is scheduled to start as planned with a ceremony on March 26 in northern Fukushima prefecture.DPA