Cancellations sweep global sport as coronavirus spreads

(Getty Images)

Fifa said it would not require football clubs to release players for international matches in March and April, and recommended the halting of internationals in that period.

The governing body said final decisions on whether matches go ahead rest with competition organisers and member associations. In a press release, it said: “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.”

Fifa is looking at how to reschedule postponed matches and said it “is confident that with goodwill and flexibility from all sides, appropriate solutions will be found to allow the matches to take place in due course and with minimal disruption”.

The body is working with the World Health Organisation and other national and international public health authorities to guide its reaction to the epidemic.

IOC to update IFs, Olympic torch relay Greek leg cancelled

The International Olympic Committee is holding emergency talks with member organisations on Tuesday, according to Agence France-Presse.

The emergency conference call is to update international federations, National Olympic Committees and athletes about the impact of the epidemic on Olympic sport, AFP sources said.

An IOC spokesman said the organisation “conducts a regular dialogue with all the Olympic partners and regularly informs them of the situation.”

Meanwhile, the Greek leg of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic torch relay has been cancelled, but the Games’ organising committee said the Japanese stages will go ahead.

The torch relay cancellation was announced by the Hellenic Olympic Committee, and supported by the International Olympic Committee.

A handover ceremony for the torch to a Japanese delegation in Greece will take place as planned on March 19, without any public in attendance.

In a press release on Friday, the Tokyo 2020 OC said: “Tokyo 2020 will bring the Olympic Flame back to Japan, and in line with the countermeasure policy set by the national government, we will work closely with all municipalities and related organisations in Japan to ensure the Olympic Torch Relay safely begins on March 26.

“The IOC and Tokyo 2020 have also reconfirmed today that both parties will continue to stay in close collaboration with all relevant organisations as we prepare to deliver a safe and secure Tokyo 2020 Games opening on 24 July 2020 as planned.”

The IOC has told the 500 staff at its Olympic House headquarters in Lausanne to work from home from today. The committee said the measure would apply “until further notice, with the exception of some essential functions”. It encouraged staff at its Olympic Channel Services and Olympic Broadcasting Services units in Madrid to do the same. The IOC’s Olympic Museum in Lausanne has been closed for the next two weeks at least. Switzerland has introduced a host of virus containment measures in the last week, including closing schools and restricting social gatherings.

Vietnam GP postponed, F1 eyes May restart

Formula 1 and the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile said on Friday they expected the motor-racing series to begin this season in Europe at the end of May, Reuters has reported.

The inaugural Vietnam Grand Prix on Friday evening became the latest race to be postponed. Earlier in the day, the season-opener in Melbourne and second race in Bahrain had been postponed.

Formula 1 chairman Chase Carey said: “The global situation regarding COVID-19 is fluid and very difficult to predict and its right we take time to assess the situation and make the right decisions.”

Formula One motorsport managing director Ross Brawn said the series was looking at using dates during the planned August break, from August 2-30, to reschedule some races, among other ideas.

Brawn acknowledged the economic impact that would come from race cancellations: “The teams survive on their funding from races. So this will have an impact on the teams’ budgets for the future…It will have an impact on our economics as a company. Each race you lose, then it has an impact.”

In an official statement about the cancellation of the Vietnam race, organiser the Vietnam Grand Prix Company said: “The decision to postpone the Formula 1 Vinfast Vietnam Grand Prix 2020 was made after several discussions and careful consideration between the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, Formula One World Championship Ltd, the Hà Nội People’s Committee, and the Vietnam Motorsports Association, with a consensus from the Vietnam Grand Prix company.

“This is a tough decision as 2020 is the year Việt Nam became one of the 22 official hosts of the F1 race.”

And end-May start to the season would also rule out the Dutch and Spanish grands prix, on May 3 and 10 in Zandvoort and Barcelona, respectively.

The Vietnam race organisers said they would do their best to bring the race back after the epidemic was brought under control: “VGPC and the city’s committee has prepared the best of infrastructure and technical and technological foundations that meet the strict requirements of F1 and FIA.

“The F1 circuit in Mỹ Đình has been completed at international standards and ready for operation…FIA, F1, the Hà Nội People’s Committee, VMA and VFPC will continue their collaboration and keep a close watch on COVID-19 to decide on a new date that will be safer and more suitable for the grand prix to take place and will make an official announcement to the public.”

Table tennis suspended until end-April

The International Table Tennis Federation has suspended all competitions and other activities until the end of April.

In a press release, the federation said: “The suspension comes into effect from Monday 16th March 2020 and relates to all ITTF sanctioned events, High Performance and Development activities and ITTF Foundation activities that had been due to start between the above date and the end of April 2020.

“The ITTF Executive Committee will hold an emergency meeting on Monday 16th March to discuss the situation further and an announcement will be made next week regarding the ITTF World Tour Hong Kong and China Opens.

“The ITTF has also recommended to all Continental Associations to follow the ITTF’s decision.”

SportAccord cancelled

The SportAccord World Sport and Business Summit has been cancelled. The conference was to take place in Lausanne, Switzerland in April, after being earlier relocated from Beijing.

SportAccord President Raffaele Chiulli said: “Our priority is the health and welfare of our International Federations and delegates attending our event.

“This decision has been taken with the utmost consideration for those who were planning to attend SportAccord 2020 in Lausanne.

“This is obviously an extremely unfortunate situation and we are saddened that our community will not be able to attend our annual gathering, but we wanted to announce this decision at the earliest opportunity.”

Super Rugby suspended

The Super Rugby southern hemisphere rugby union competition has been suspended.

The competition involves teams from Argentina, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa. The season is seven rounds in, with 11 to go. Competition organisers said they would communicate a plan for the remaining fixtures in the coming days.

The decision came as countries including New Zealand and Australian introduced 14-day self-isolation orders for entering travellers.

Elsewhere in southern hemisphere rugby, Australia’s NRL is to play future matches behind closed doors. Matches in the weekend just past were open to spectators. Australian Rugby League Commission boss Peter V’landys said there would be a “catastrophic” financial impact on the NRL if there was a prolonged shutdown. “It’s one of the toughest challenges for us to stay viable in the history of the game,” he said, as reported by Irish public-service broadcaster RTE.

BWF suspends tournaments

The Badminton World Federation is suspending all tournaments from today until April 12.

The suspension came into effect after the Yonex All England Open in Birmingham, UK ended on Sunday. It hits tournaments including  the Swiss Open, India Open, Orleans Masters, Malaysia Open, and Singapore Open.

The Straits Times reported that some athletes had criticised the federation for going ahead with recent international tournaments.

The BWF said it would make an announcement at a later date on the effect of the suspension on Olympic qualification.

FEI recommendations cancellation of all events

The Fédération Equestre Internationale has recommended that all organisers of its events cancel them for the next four weeks. The federation does not itself organise any events.

The federation said the situation should be assessed after the four-week period. It will waive calendar fees for cancelled events and is working out the impact on world rankings and Olympics and Paralympic qualification.

On Friday, the 2020 FEI World Cup Finals were cancelled. They were due to take place at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on April 15-19.

In a press release, the organisation said: “The spread of the Coronavirus Covid-19 has taken a rapid turn for the worse and sport worldwide is affected. We as a community have to make our contribution to limit the spread of this virus, as the sooner it can be contained the sooner we will be able to get back to normal life and normal sport. And this is something that every other sport is doing.

“The FEI appreciates the amount of work and incredible investment every Organiser puts into their Event. While the FEI does not itself organise any FEI Events, in light of the escalating numbers of persons affected by the virus and the restrictions imposed by national governments, the FEI strongly recommends that Organisers should cancel all events for the next four weeks until a reassessment of the situation can be made.

“The FEI and Board will work together with the International Equestrian Organisers Alliance to evaluate what can be done to try and accommodate dates for Events that have been impacted during this period.”

Union Cycliste Internationale recommends calendar cancellation

The Union Cycliste Internationale has requested that race organisers cancel International Calendar (IC) events “in territories identified as at risk by the World Health Organisation”. The union did not identify which territories these were but provided a link to the WHO website, which states that 146 countries around the world have reported coronavirus cases.

The union said it has received over 100 postponement and cancellation requests regarding IC events to date, “and the list is growing daily”.

The UCI has suspended classification for all events on its International Calendar from March 15 until at least April 3 to preserve “sporting equity”. It has requested that the International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee stop qualification for Tokyo 2020 retroactively at March 3, again in order to preserve fairness.

Regarding Olympic and Paralympic qualification, the UCI said it wanted to avoid “incessant changes” to athletes’ schedules. It said that rescheduling Olympic qualification events was too uncertain, even given the IOC’s extension of the window for qualifiers to June 30.

The UCI has also closed its headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland to the public, and is putting in place a work-from-home plan for its 120 staff from March 17.

A-League carries on behind closed doors

Australian football’s A-League will continue its 2019-20 season, with the remaining six rounds of regular-season games played behind closed doors, the league said today. The policy will be reviewed ahead of the end-of-season Finals Series.

Matches involving the Melbourne Victory and Wellington Phoenix teams will not take place in Rounds 24 and 25. The two teams were playing in Wellington Phoenix’s home country New Zealand yesterday – over the weekend, the Australian government imposed self-isolation orders on all travellers entering Australia. Wellington Phoenix will play all its matches in Australia for the remainder of the season.

The Football Federation Australia said grassroots and lower-level matches could go ahead with measures to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission. Its chief executive James Johnson said: “The scale of football means that we have a key role to play in maintaining the health and well-being of Australians, as well as their families and the wider community. We are doing so by allowing people to play, in line with the current Government position but with additional guidance to further improve social distancing at football fields around the country.”

Other news

New Zealand Cricket and Cricket Australia cancelled their one day international series that began in Australia on Friday. The New Zealand players rushed home ahead of travel restrictions introduced by the two countries on Sunday.

The opening of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Aquatics Centre, set for March 22, has been postponed. The event will be rescheduled but will take place without the public in attendance.

The World Baseball Softball Confederation has postponed the Americas qualification competition for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The competition was to take place in Arizona, US on March 22 to 26, and to be contested by the US, Canada, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

The London marathon has been postponed until October 4. The event was due to take place on April 26. It is the first time the race has been postponed since its launch in 1981.

The finals of the International Gymnastics Federation Apparatus World Cup in Baku, Azerbaijan, which were due to place over the weekend, March 14-15, were cancelled due to social isolation measures introduced by the Azerbaijani government.

SailGP cancelled its San Francisco event that was due to take place on May 2-3. Tickets will be automatically refunded in full. The sailing series said further schedule announcements would be made in due course.