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Coronavirus… punching sports below the belt globally

By Gowon Akpodonor
13 March 2020   |   2:44 am
This year’s sports calendar seems to be heading towards doom following the outbreak of coronavirus, which is spreading like the harmattan fire, and crippling sports activities across the globe.

This year’s sports calendar seems to be heading towards doom following the outbreak of coronavirus, which is spreading like the harmattan fire, and crippling sports activities across the globe.

Sports are defenseless to highly transmissible diseases because it always works with a stadium-packed audience, and in the process become easy to feed on infectious diseases.

To some medical experts, the coronavirus will pose a great threat to the existence and value of sports for a long period of time. The SARS-like epidemic, which was first reported in Wuhan, China, has led to postponements or outright cancellations of events, as well as playing of football matches behind closed doors.

On Tuesday in Lagos, Flykite Productions unveiled its plans towards the 21st edition of the GOtv Boxing Night, which has two World Boxing Federation (WBF) bouts on the card. It is scheduled for April 12 at the National Stadium, Lagos.

While the ceremony was going on, one of the sports journalists asked the organisers if they had made adequate arrangement to protect the boxers and the fans expected at the venue from a possible contact with the dreaded coronavirus.

There was a brief silence inside the hall. However, the managing director of Flykite Promotions, Jenkins Alumona, said in his response that they were aware of the spread of coronavirus, but added that the situation in Nigeria had not gotten to the point of putting off a sports event.

“We will continue to monitor the situation as regards the spread of the coronavirus, and if there is the need to postpone the GOtv Boxing Night 21, we will do so. It will not be possible to stage a boxing show without the fans, and it is not also possible for us to test the over 10,000 fans we are expecting at the venue. Coronavirus will come and go, but boxing and other sports events will remain,” Alumona stated.

The GOtv Boxing Night 21 will feature some of Nigeria’s brightest pugilists, including Rilwan ‘Real One’ Oladosu, Rilwan ‘Baby Face’ Babatunde and Taiwo ‘Esepo’ Agbaje against the likes of Ghana’s Emmanuel Quartey and Moses Dodzi as well as Tanzania’s Mkwalekwa Salehe.

Since it was first reported in China about three months ago, the fast-spreading coronavirus (COVID-19) has claimed over 4,000 lives and infected nearly 130,000 people around the world.

Apart from the large number of casualties recorded in China, more than 700 people in the United States have tested positive for the virus and 26 have died.

The virus is also taking its toll on some European and African countries. Italy alone has more than 9,000 cases and almost 500 deaths. All of Italy has become a red zone. All sporting activities, including football, have been stopped as the authority extended quarantine around the country until April 3, while Ligue 1 in France and LaLiga in Spain have moved to keep spectators away from games over the coming weeks.

The forthcoming Champions League matches where Barcelona host Napoli and Chelsea travel to Bayern Munich will also take place without fans in attendance.

No such action has reached English football yet, Manchester City manager, Pep Guardiola does not believe playing games behind closed doors is a viable long-term move as the football world seeks to address the spread of coronavirus.

Though Guardiola feels it is inevitable given mounting fears in Europe over the virus that has now claimed in excess of 4,000 lives worldwide.

Nevertheless, as City prepare for three matches at the Etihad Stadium in the space of seven days, Guardiola stated he would sooner have games suspended if the alternative is empty stands for the foreseeable future.

“We are conscious of it because it happened already in Italy,” he said at a pre-match news conference during the week.

“The league is suspended, in Spain they start the next two weeks behind closed doors and I think it is going to happen here because the tendency [instances of coronavirus] rises in the same level as in Italy before and Spain right now.

“The other thing we have to ask is whether it works to play football without the spectators. They are the reason why we do our job, for the people. If the people cannot come to the games there is no sense.

“I would not love to play football games in the Champions League, in the Premier League or in the cups or whatever without the people.

“We are going to follow the instructions from the governments. Everyone around the world is involved in that and just follow what they have to do and follow the instructions,” he stated.

Guardiola went on to underline his belief that football derives meaning from being played in front of the paying public.

“I would prefer not to play than without people, definitely,” he said. “We are here for the people. Of course, if it is for one game or two games I can understand it. But longer…

“The reason why you are a journalist is to write for the people. I play, we play for the people. If the people cannot be there, what sense? No sense.”

He added: “If UEFA and the governments say you have to play without spectators we are going to play without spectators. But I am going to say I would love to play with spectators, with our fans. For one game it can happen, for a long time there is no sense.

“But the health is the most important thing right now, not the competitions. It is how to take care of this situation, which is getting worse country by country, day by day,” Guardiola stated.

Manchester City’s Premier League match with Arsenal was postponed on Wednesday as a “precautionary measure” and several Gunners players were in self-isolation after Olympiakos owner Evangelos Marinakis contracted coronavirus.

Arsenal say Marinakis, 52, met a number of their players when the Gunners hosted the Greek side in a Europa League match two weeks ago.

Marinakis – who also owns Championship side Nottingham Forest – said on Tuesday he had tested positive for Covid-19.

In Italy, the government has decided to extend the quarantine regime initially reserved only to Lombardy and to 11 provinces in the north to the whole peninsula.

The decree provides for banning all public events, closing cinemas, theatres, gyms, discos and pubs, funerals, weddings and all sport events, including Serie A matches until April 3.

The Italian National Olympic Committee, reunited with all the Italian sports federations suspended the sporting competitions, including team sports at all levels.

The all-sports lockdown imposed by the new decree put an end to a period of uncertainty on the sports calendars in Italy, especially regarding the Serie A. The Rome Marathon scheduled for March 29 and other big events like the Formula E-Prix in Rome (April 4) and the Alpine Skiing World Cup finals (March 18-22) in Cortina d’Ampezzo had been postponed.

The ban also affected the Tokyo 2020 women’s Olympic qualification tournament. It will be held in Trieste in May instead of March 8-15. The new dates on schedule are May 17 – 24 unless Italy remains in danger, a possibility likely to force FINA to change the host.

With regard to cycling, also the three major spring events have been affected: the cycling one-day classic Milano-Sanremo (March 21), the Giro di Sicilia (April 1-4) and the Tirreno – Adriatico (March 11-17) have been suspended and wait for a relocation on the international calendar.

Israel has mandated quarantine for all arriving travelers, while Japan is moving toward declaring a national emergency. The virus has also hit the United Arabs Emirates (UAE).

In the United States, some notable tournaments have been officially cancelled.

In Canada, the IIHF Council called off Women’s World Championships due to the ongoing spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). The IIHF Council agreed during the week to cancel the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship scheduled to take place on 12-18 April 2020.

In Iran, all sporting events have been suspended until the end of March. The Islamic Republic of Iran Football Federation has set April 5 as the resumption date for the country’s football leagues, while the volleyball leagues have been cancelled for the season.

In Argentina, no sports event has been suspended, but there are restrictions for athletes from Europe and China. A total number of 17 persons have been infected in the country with one reported dead. Only Argentinian athletes in the Italian leagues are stopped.

In Bahrain, the Grand Prix will take place behind closed doors due to the coronavirus outbreak. The second stage of the Formula One season, scheduled March 20-22, was closed to the public because of the virus, according to a statement from the race organisers.

Apart from the Ligue 1being closed in France,
Sports Minister Roxanna Maracineanu announced on March 5 that the Paris marathon scheduled for April 5 would be postponed to October 18. 65,000 runners from 150 different countries had registered.

Before then on March 1, the half-marathon in Paris was cancelled only a few hours before the start.Last Sunday, the Paris/Nice cycling race started in the town of Plaisir in the Yvelines, with the public not being able to interact with the cyclists. Six foreign teams cancelled their participation in the race.

The French National Cross-Country Running Championship, scheduled for March 7-8, in Montauban in the southwest of France was cancelled. Police headquarters in Paris announced earlier in the week that the UEFA Champions League’s round of 16 between PSG and Dortmund scheduled next Wednesday will be played behind closes doors.

The Six Nations of rugby halts instead, with Saturday’s match between France vs Ireland postponed to next autumn.South Korea sports society has been hit severely by Coronavirus. The first competitions to be halted were professional volleyball and basketball leagues last week, which completely suspended games until the situation improve.

K-league, the national football top-flights decided to postpone the start of the news season. Only women’s basketball continued activities until March 8, women’s basketball federation decided to suspend its professional league for two weeks, joining other sports organizations in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus to play its games behind closed doors.

The South Korean professional baseball league decided to push back the start of the regular season indefinitely, amid concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus. The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) said the 2020 season would begin in April, instead of March 28 as originally scheduled.

Some international sports events to be held in Korea are also being delayed. The ITTF World table Tennis Championships, which is scheduled to start on March 24, has been postponed to June and the ISU Short Track Speed Skating World Championship scheduled in Seoul also pushed toward the end of the year.

The upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics may not be free from the threat being posed by the coronavirus. Sports without spectators is meaningless.

Japanese authorities acted massively on sporting events after Coronavirus cases started increasing some weeks ago. Almost all sports events have now been cancelled, postponed or staged without crowds.Some African countries are already hit by the coronavirus.

In Senegal, the inaugural Basketball Africa League season was postponed, according to a report by AIPS Young Reporter, Diacounda Sene. The inaugural Basketball Africa League season should have tipped on March 13 in Dakar.

And in Morocco, certain sports events have been postponed or cancelled as the authority take preventive measures to avoid large sports gatherings.

The Tour du Maroc and the Judo Grand Prix in Rabat were the first events to be cancelled last week. The Royal Moroccan Cycling Federation canceled the Tour of Morocco as soon as the first case of coronavirus in the kingdom was announced. The same goes for the Judo Grand Prix, earlier scheduled for March 5-9 in the indoor hall of the Moulay Abdellah complex in Rabat was postponed for the same reasons.

Also, the Royal Moroccan Football Federation on March 4, ordered that football at all levels be played behind closed doors ‘to preserve the health conditions of the whole Moroccan football family.’

In Kenya, the ACA T20 Africa Cup Kenya 2020 was postponed until further notice, while Algerian league matches are being played behind closed doors.