How the Coronavirus Has Disrupted Sports Events

By Victor Mather

With the death toll from the coronavirus surpassing 3,000 worldwide, the ramifications have spread to nearly every aspect of life, with sports no exception. Events major and minor have been canceled, moved or postponed, as athletes, officials and spectators worry about the spread of the virus.

Italy has gone as far as announcing that all sporting events in the country, including Serie A soccer matches, will take place without fans present for at least the next month. Dubai has also asked that all sports events be canceled for the rest of the month.


The Summer Games, involving international travel by tens of thousands of athletes, officials, news media members and spectators, have naturally been one of the biggest concerns in the wake of the virus. This has been amplified because it is scheduled for July and August in Tokyo, in proximity to China.

For now, it’s all systems go, officials say. At a news conference on Wednesday, Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, said that at a recent meeting of the executive committee, “Neither the word ‘cancellation’ nor the word ‘postponement’ was even mentioned.”

Asked about contingency plans in the event that the outbreak worsens, he declined to answer: “I will not add fuel to the flame of speculation.”

Seiko Hashimoto, Japan’s Olympic minister, had said in parliament on Tuesday that the Games could theoretically be postponed to later in 2020 under the contract with the I.O.C.

The biggest advantage the Olympics seem to have is time, as many health officials are hopeful that the virus will be better contained by the summer. The torch-lighting ceremony in Greece, which on March 12 kicks off the month’slong torch relay, will be scaled back.

Club Soccer

Italy, said on Wednesday that all sporting events will be held without spectators until at least April 3. Switzerland suspended its soccer league until March 23 after clubs refused to play to empty stands. Iran suspended games in the top three divisions until April 2.

In China, the league season was to have started Feb. 22, but has not yet begun. Asian Champions League games involving Chinese teams have been postponed until April.

South Korea has postponed the start of its league season, and Japan played one round of league games in late February before halting its season.

Spain’s health minister said Tuesday that events that could attract fans from high-risk areas like Italy should be held without spectators. That could include a Valencia-Atalanta Champions League game on March 10.

Borussia Dortmund of Germany canceled a planned tour of Asia this summer.

International Soccer

Officials at UEFA, Europe’s soccer federation, said they were concerned about the coronavirus with the approach of Euro 2020, scheduled at multiple European sites beginning in June. For now, no action has been taken.

China’s World Cup qualifying games this month will be moved to Thailand and be played without fans.


The N.B.A. sent a memo to teams on Sunday advising players to opt for fist bumps instead of high-fives when interacting with fans. The memo also suggested players steer clear of borrowing items like pens and markers from fans when signing autographs.


(Players on the England cricket team will also go with fist bumps instead of handshakes on their coming tour of Sri Lanka, the team captain said. The Scottish top flight soccer league has dropped pregame and postgame handshakes.)

Weeks before its men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments, which are held at sites across the country, the National Collegiate Athletic Association said it was monitoring the virus and coordinating with federal, state and local health officials.

Brian Hainline, the association’s chief medical officer, wrote in an email to colleagues last month that N.C.A.A. staff members would “add appropriate safeguards” as proper, “as they would with any public health crisis.”

Over the weekend, RamogiHuma, the executive director of the National College Players Association, urged “a serious discussion” about holding athletic events without spectators. Huma also said that colleges and the N.C.A.A. should cancel events that force players to be in close contact with the public, including meet-and-greet opportunities and news conferences.

Chicago State’s men’s team will not travel to road games against Seattle and Utah Valley this week, and the women’s team will not host those teams, the school said.

The Basketball Africa League postponed the start of its inaugural season, scheduled for March 13. A March 18 qualifying event in India for the Olympic three-on-three basketball tournament, which would have featured the American men and women, has been postponed.


Major League Baseball is in a wait-and-see mode as spring training games begin in Florida and Arizona.

In Japan, preseason games are being played in empty stadiums, and discussion continues about the fate of the start of the season, scheduled for March 20.

An Olympic baseball qualifying event scheduled for Taiwan in April has been postponed until June.


A women’s tour event scheduled for Xi’an, China, in April was canceled. China forfeited in the Davis Cup rather than travel to Romania for a match on Friday.

World Championships

The world indoor track and field championships, scheduled to be held in Nanjing, China, March 13 to 15, have been postponed by a year. The world team table tennis championships in Busan, South Korea, this month have been pushed back to June. The world short-track speedskating championships this month in Seoul have been postponed and will be held in October at the earliest, if they are held at all.

Winter Sports

The World Cup biathlon event in NoveMestonaMorave, Czech Republic, this weekend will be held, but without spectators. Martin Fourcade of France, who leads the World Cup, was critical of the decision, saying on Twitter: “Inconsistency continues. Czech fans cannot attend, while there is no problem for the whole biathlon caravan to travel there in spite of the fact we were all in Italy less than 14 days ago.”

Motor Racing

The Formula One Chinese Grand Prix, scheduled for April 19, has been postponed, with no new date set. Motorcycle Grand Prix canceled its first two races of the season, in Qatar and Thailand, with the Thailand race moved to October.



The Tokyo Marathon on Sunday limited its field to a few hundred elite runners and told the tens of thousands of others who had registered to stay home. Spectators were also urged to stay inside, so the event was held on mostly empty streets.


The L.P.G.A. Tour canceled three consecutive events in February and March in China, Thailand and Singapore. The tour resumes in Arizona later this month.


A game between Ireland and Italy in the annual Six Nations tournament, to be played on Saturday in Dublin, has been postponed with no makeup date yet set. England’s visit to Italy the next weekend will also be postponed. The Hong Kong and Singapore events in the rugby sevens series have been pushed back to October.


Two legs of the U.A.E. Tour were canceled. The leader after the first five stages, Adam Yates, was declared the winner.

Dozens of cyclists and team officials were quarantined in a hotel in the country after the race. While many went home in the last few days, two teams, including 18 riders, remained as of Thursday. Thierry Vittu, president of the team Cofidis, said cyclists were being “treated like plague victims,” and Roberto Damiani, the team’s sporting director, threatened a hunger strike. Officials said the teams would remain under quarantine until March 14.

The StradeBianche race, scheduled for Saturday in Italy, was canceled. Several teams have announced they will pull out of races in the next few weeks in Italy and France.