Sport in disarray over coronavirus but IOC says Olympics on course
BERLIN – The coronavirus continued to wreak havoc in the world of sport Thursday with Spanish football giants Real Madrid placing their squad in quarantine, McLaren withdrawing from the Australian Grand Prix and the ATP suspending the men's tennis tour for six weeks.
Football's Euro 2020 across 12 European countries is now a doubt as a result of the emergency which has seen league programmes suspended and matches without spectators.
However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it was confident the Tokyo Games could be held as planned this summer.
The IOC remains "absolutely in line with our Japanese hosts in our commitment to delivering safe Olympic Games in July this year."
European body UEFA is to hold crisis talks on Tuesday and said all domestic leagues, the Champions League, Europa League and Euro 2020 will be up for discussion.
UEFA said representatives of its 55 member associations were invited to discussions due to "ongoing developments in the spread of COVID-19 across Europe and the changing analysis of the World Health Organization."
Euro 2020 is scheduled to begin with the opening game in Rome on June 12. Italy, one of the 12 countries hosting matches and the European nation most heavily impacted by the coronavirus, is currently on lockdown.
The viability of the Tokyo Olympics continued to be questioned on a day that the Olympic flame for the Games was lit in Greece in front of a crowd restricted to 100 because of the coronavirus.
Both local organizers and the IOC insist they are planning for them to go ahead.
In a statement issued after the lighting ceremony, the IOC said: "the world is facing challenges that are also impacting sport.
"But with 19 weeks before the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, the many measures being taken now by authorities all around the world give us confidence and keep us fully committed to delivering Olympic Games that can bring the world together in peace."
The decision by Formula One team McLaren to pull out of Sunday's season-opener Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne has also raised the possibility the race could be called off.
McLaren's decision came after a team member tested positive for the virus, and team chiefs informed the governing FIA of the decision to withdraw a day before practice is due to start at Albert Park.
F1 said in a statement Formula 1 and FIA "have been coordinating with all the relevant authorities on the next steps. Our priority is the safety of the fans, the teams and all personnel at the race."
Mercedes driver and reigning F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton had earlier questioned why the race was going ahead when so many other sporting events around the world were being cancelled or closing doors to fans.
"I am very, very surprised we are here," world champion Lewis Hamilton. "It's great we have races but it's shocking we are sitting in this room."
April's Chinese Grand Prix has already been cancelled and next week's race in Bahrain goes ahead without fans.
The ATP said men's professional tennis tour up to and including the week beginning April 20 has been cancelled.
The affected ATP Tour events are the Miami Open, the Houston clay court championships, the Marrakech tournament, the Monte Carlo Masters, the Barcelona Open and the Hungarian Open in Budapest.
The Indian Wells ATP and WTA tournament, which should have started this week, had already been cancelled.
In Spain, Real Madrid said a basketball player with their club tested positive for the virus and as their football and basketball teams share facilities, both first team squads would be quarantined.
Real were due to meet Eibar in the football Primera Division on Friday but La Liga said that all matches would be suspended for at least two weeks. Previously Primera Division matches were to go ahead but behind closed doors without fans.
The World Health Organization says the coronavirus has reached 115 countries with nearly 4,300 fatalities.
Sport in the United States continued to be impacted, with NBA saying said it was suspending its basketball season and would use time "to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic."
The American travel ban had an immediate impact on the cross country World Cup in Minneapolis, with ski governing body FIS cancelling the men's and women's events on March 17. Events in Canada this weekend are to go ahead.
But the FIS did cancel the remaining men's alpine ski races in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia this weekend meaning Norway's Aleksander Aamodt Kilde has won a first overall title.
The remaining ski jumping World Cup events for men and women were also cancelled with the overall titles being decided as a result.
Austria's Stefan Kraft wins a second men's overall crown after 2017 while Norway's Maren Lundby secures a third consecutive overall victory on the women's side.
Biathlon was another winter sport affected with the March 20-22 final races of the World Cup in Oslo scrapped. The World Cup programme in Kontiolathi, Finland is going ahead without fans.
The South American football confederation CONMEBOL requested global governing body FIFA postpone the start of its regional World Cup qualifying to Qatar 2022.
England's Premier League is expected to make their games be behind closed doors on Thursday while Denmark, like Spain, halted all football activity until March 29.
Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers said three players have being self-isolating after showing some symptoms of coronavirus.
In Italy, Sampdoria striker Manolo Gabbiadini became the second Serie A player tested positive for coronavirus following Juventus defender Daniele Rugani.
In Germany, which already said it would play weekend matches behind closed doors, pay broadcaster Sky said it would make lots of games available on free to air television.
The Qatar International Cup, a football tune-up tournament in Doha this month, has been cancelled. Croatia, Portugal, Belgium, and Switzerland were to take part.
Basketball governing body FIBA said all its competitions were suspended from Friday while the Euroleague was consulting on a temporary suspension with a decision expected later Thursday.dpa