The coronavirus outbreak is having a major impact on sport and cultural events. Officials in California have cancelled the Indian Wells tennis tournament. The combined ATP and WTA event is one of the sport’s most prestigious events outside of the grand slams. More than 400,000 people were expected to attend, but organisers feared an outbreak, after a confirmed case of the virus in the local area.
Many of the sport’s leading stars had already made their way to California, with qualification set to begin on Monday. Men’s world number two Rafael Nadal wrote on twitter: “We are here and still deciding what’s next. So sad for all that is happening around the world with this situation.” Organisers have rejected the idea of holding the event behind closed doors. Tournament director Tommy Haas says the event may be rescheduled to another date.
In the UK, the English Premier League has cancelled its first football match. The game between Manchester City and Arsenal has been postponed as a “precautionary measure” and a number of Arsenal players will self-isolate. It follows the news that Olympiacos owner, Evangelos Marinakis, has contracted the virus. Arsenal recently played the Greek team.
In a statement, Arsenal said: “The medical advice we have received puts the risk of them developing Covid-19 at extremely low. However, we are strictly following the Government guidelines which recommend that anyone coming into close contact with someone with the virus should self-isolate at home for 14 days from the last time they had contact.” However, the EPL says there are no plans to cancel any other matches. It’s already banned the traditional pre-match handshakes but has not imposed any further restrictions. Some clubs have told their players and staff not to sign autographs.
On the continent, European sport organisers in several countries are now considering playing all games behind closed doors. Italy has cancelled all sports events with the entire country in lockdown. All Serie A games will now be postponed until at least the 3rd of April. The final round of the Six Nations Rugby Championship has also been delayed until the autumn.
The restrictions have meant a fraught time for Ferrari and AlphaTauri, who are preparing for the start of the Formula One season. The teams have however been granted special dispensation to travel to Melbourne for the opening race, which will go ahead without any restrictions on fans. That’s not the case in Bahrain, which hosts the second race of the season. Their grand prix will go ahead, but behind closed doors. They have also requested the details of all personnel who have transited through China, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, or Thailand in the two weeks before their arrival. They will be tested for the coronavirus on arrival in the airport in Manama.
Race officials released a statement saying: “We know how disappointed many will be by this news, especially for those planning to travel to the event, which has become a cornerstone event of the international F1 calendar, but safety has to remain our utmost priority. Bahrain's own early actions to prevent, identify and isolate cases of individuals with Covid-19 has been extremely successful to date.”
Formula One chief Ross Brawn has warned hosting countries that races will not go ahead unless all the teams are able to travel. Vietnam is hosting the third race of the season and has also imposed restrictions on travellers from Italy, which would affect Ferrari, Alpha Tauri and tyre supplier Pirelli. Authorities are hopeful that similar arrangements to Bahrain’s can be worked out in time.
The virus has also affected other forms of motorsport, particularly MotoGP. The first two races of the MotoGP season, in Qatar and Thailand, have been cancelled. Six of the riders on the grid are Italian, while several of the teams are based in the country. MotoGP said in a statement: "Italy clearly plays a vital role in the championship and in the MotoGP class - both on track and off - and therefore the decision has been taken to cancel premier class competition."
The third race, set to be held at the circuit of the Americas in early April may also be abandoned. Authorities there have declared a local state of disaster, and will cancel public gatherings of above 2,500 people unless organisers can prove they have taken appropriate steps to contain the virus.
The 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo also appear to be under threat. There will be no spectators present for the traditional lighting of the torch ceremony in Olympia, Greece on the 12th of March. The Games are due to be held from the 24th of July to the 9th of August. Japan’s Olympic Minister has warned however they could be postponed to the end of the year if the virus continues to spread.