MADRID – The coronavirus pandemic has ground world sport to a halt, forcing the suspension of most major domestic football leagues in Europe as well as the UEFA Champions League, the NBA, the Formula One and the MotoGP.
It has also cast questions over whether the Olympic Games scheduled to be held in Tokyo later this year will go ahead.
The Olympic torch relay was postponed by Greek authorities on Friday when crowds tried to turn up to watch actor Gerard Butler light the flame in the ancient city of Sparta, despite being told to stay away.
The Hellenic Olympic Committee said it would halt “the rest of the torch relay on Greek soil.”
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe insisted on Friday the Games would go as planned just hours after United States President Donald Trump suggested they be pushed back a year.
The Premier League and the English Football League became the latest major domestic trophies to freeze their schedules on Friday while UEFA suspended next week’s matches in the Champions League and the Europa League.
The Premier League’s decision to stop until April – a period that includes an international break that could yet be affected – came after Chelsea player Callum Hudson-Odoi and Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta tested positive for COVID-19. At least six teams went into self-isolation.
Domestic leagues in Germany and France announced similar measures on Friday, joining Spain’s LaLiga, Italy’s Serie A, The Dutch Eredivisie and Portugal’s Primeira Liga.
The last game to be played in front of a full crowd the Champions League was Atletico Madrid’s 3-2 away win at Liverpool, which was attended by 3,000 travelling fans despite rumors it could be played behind closed doors, something that Paris Saint-Germain had decided to do when they beat Borussia Dortmund 2-0 the day before.
News then emerged that Juventus defender Daniele Rugani had tested positive for the virus, requiring the entire first team, including Cristiano Ronaldo, to self-isolate.
The Europa League went ahead on Thursday except for those games involving teams from the countries that have been worst-hit by the coronavirus outbreak, Spain and Italy, with fixtures between Sevilla and Roma, and Inter and Getafe scrapped for now.
The two UEFA competitions fork out around 2.5 billion euros between competing clubs, around 166 million of which in the Champions League and 34.6 million in the Europa League is up in the air depending on how organizers decide to resume course.
Spain’s LaLiga was suspended earlier this week when Real Madrid’s first team went into quarantine.
In the case that the season is abandoned, clubs could lose out on 678.4 million euros between TV rights and ticket sales combined.
One of the most lucrative competitions in the world was felled by COVID-19 on Wednesday having previously tried to ensure its continuation with health precautions similar to those adopted by Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and MLS soccer, which included playing without fans and postponing individual matches.
But when Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive just before he was due to play against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the game was up and the NBA was suspended. It could cost the league hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.
One option being entertained by NBA officials is to resume the competition at a later date, which could affect players hoping to take part in the Olympic Games.
Teams and players would lose millions if the season was abandoned altogether.
Across the Atlantic, the Euroleague competition was also brought to a halt after Real Madrid player Ricky Thompson tested positive for COVID-19. The news forced Real Madrid’s basketball and football teams into self-quarantine.
FORMULA ONE AND MOTOGP
Motorsport has not escaped the effects of the pandemic.
The Formula One Grand Prix in Australia was cancelled last minute after a member of the McLaren team was diagnosed with the virus.
Both the Grand Prix in Bahrain and Vietnam have also been shelved.
The Grand Prix in China was cancelled earlier in the year.
MotoGP was forced to put the brakes on the Qatar Grand Prix after the Arab country adopted quarantine measures and several changes to the calendar mean the season will only get underway in Spain on May 3.