Virus causes canceled events, empty stadiums worldwide
DÜSSELDORF – The escalating virus outbreak brought more disruption to the sporting world on Saturday, with games canceled or played without spectators and news of possible quarantine for some athletes.
Saturday's game between Strasbourg and Paris Saint-Germain in the French soccer league was postponed the day before, while players from Liverpool and Bournemouth were the first in the English Premier League to go without pre-game handshakes.
The Barcelona marathon was postponed from March 15 to Oct. 25. Organizers offered the estimated 17,000 runners, about half of them from abroad, the choice of running the rescheduled race or reserving a place for March 2021.
British sporting events could soon be held without spectators, with a meeting between sports bodies, broadcasters and the government set to take place on Monday. A full slate of Serie A soccer games in Italy, which has Europe's largest number of virus cases, will be played Sunday in empty stadiums.
Some fans wore face masks to Liverpool's game, and to Barcelona's win over Real Sociedad in Spain. In Germany the substitutes' benches were disinfected ahead of Wolfsburg's Bundesliga game against Leipzig. Time is running out to decide whether African Cup of Nations qualifiers will go ahead as planned this month.
In the world of cricket, England's squad was handed “immunity packs” including hand sanitizer, sterilizing wipes and nasal sprays during its tour of Sri Lanka. Fist bumps replaced handshakes at a warm-up match. Australian player Marnus Labuschagne used hand sanitizer as his team lost to South Africa in a one-day international on Saturday.
In a rare case of an elite athlete being directly affected by the outbreak, the women's Six Nations rugby game between Scotland and France on Saturday was postponed after a Scottish player was diagnosed with the virus. The Scotstoun leisure complex in Glasgow, where the game was due to be played, was closed.
The Russian national women's football team is facing quarantine after playing a game in Germany amid the escalating COVID-19 outbreak.
Team doctor Eduard Bezuglov told Russian news agency RIA Novosti on Friday that the players' clubs had been given recommendations based on a decree from Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin.
The city has ordered anyone returning from countries with virus outbreaks, including Germany, to isolate themselves for 14 days.
“I'm sure they will all follow the recommendations. After all, you don't joke with these things. Looking after the players' health is the main thing right now,” Bezuglov told RIA Novosti.
Russia beat Kosovo 5-0 in a European Championship qualifier played in the German city of Wiesbaden on Friday because Russia doesn't recognize Kosovo as a state.
Around the world, more countries are canceling sporting events or holding them without spectators.
The start of the inaugural African basketball league in Senegal next week was postponed and at least two African countries, Morocco and Tunisia, have banned either all or visiting fans from attending soccer games in continental club competitions.
A European Tour golf event in Kenya scheduled to start March 12 was postponed indefinitely after the Kenyan government decided to stop all gatherings involving international visitors for at least a month.
The governing body of African soccer has some big decisions to make with upcoming events, including the African Nations Championship in Cameroon next month. That's Africa's second-biggest soccer tournament. Cameroon has confirmed its first case of the virus.
All of the nine African countries with confirmed cases are also due to host qualifying games for the 2021 African Cup of Nations, Africa’s biggest soccer event, at the end of this month. The Confederation of African Football said Saturday it had asked a team of medical experts to monitor the situation.
“We are not extremely worried but remain vigilant with regards to future matches and tournaments,” CAF said. It added: “If the situation requires and in agreement with the countries concerned, matches behind closed doors, postponements or even cancellations are envisaged.”
Saudi Arabia announced there would be no spectators for competitions starting Saturday. The kingdom has five confirmed cases and has restricted other gatherings, including halting all pilgrimages in Mecca, Islam's holiest site.
The Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan has not reported any virus cases but is canceling all “mass sports events" as a precaution "until the situation stabilizes,” the State Agency for Youth, Fitness and Sports said in a statement.
Central Asian governments have been wary of the virus spreading. The Asian weightlifting championships, a key Olympic qualifier, were called off Friday. They had been due to be hosted by Uzbekistan next month.
Tales Azzoni in Madrid and Gerald Imray in Somerset West, South Africa, contributed to this report.
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