Rory McIlroy (left) leaves the clubhouse after the cancellation of The Players Championship golf tournament in Ponte Vedra Beach on Friday. Associated Press
The collapse of sports events worldwide over the rapidly spreading new coronavirus gathered pace on Friday with the English Premier League (EPL) and European football’s showpiece Champions League swept aside by the pandemic.
England’s cricket tour of Sri Lanka also fell victim to the virus while suspension of the Premier League until April 4 came shortly after the French Football League announced that all Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 games would be on hold until further notice.
The Players Championship, one of golf’s most prestigious events, were among other events scrapped as the virus laid waste to the sporting calendar, with the future of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics looking increasingly in doubt.
The Bahrain Grand Prix scheduled for March 22 was postponed by Formula One officials on Friday, becoming the third race in less than 24 hours to be called off after Australia and Vietnam.
“Formula 1 and the FIA continue to work closely with the race promoters in Bahrain and Vietnam and the local authorities to monitor the situation and take the appropriate amount of time to study the viability of potential alternative dates for each Grand Prix later in the year should the situation improve,” F1 officials said in a statement.
It is the fourth Grand Prix to be called off in total. The Chinese Grand Prix was postponed by motorsport’s governing body in February.
Saturday’s Six Nations international between Wales and Scotland in Cardiff was also postponed on Friday just hours after the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) gave it the go ahead.
A WRU statement issued at 0930 GMT insisted Saturday’s game was still “going ahead as planned”.
But that was before a fresh raft of sporting events were postponed.
And cycling’s first Grand Tour of the season, the Giro d’Italia, scheduled for May 9-31, was also put on hold.
The impact of COVID-19, which has killed 5,043 people according to a tally, is accelerating just over four months from the Tokyo Olympics’ start on July 24.
Football’s Premier League, with a worldwide audience of billions, was put on hold after Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi were confirmed to have the disease.
“Following a meeting of shareholders today, it was unanimously decided to suspend the Premier League with the intention of returning on April 4, subject to medical advice and conditions at the time,” the Premier League said in a statement.
The decision by authorities in England and France to suspended top-flight football means that all Europe’s top leagues have ground to a halt apart from Germany where matches have been ordered to be played behind closed doors. Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A have already suspended matches.
European football’s governing body UEFA took a similar step in announcing that all UEFA Champions League and Europa League matches scheduled to be played next week had been postponed. The move comes after two of next week’s four scheduled Champions League last 16, second legs — between Manchester City and Real Madrid, and between Juventus and Lyon — had already been called off.
“In the light of developments due to the spread of COVID-19 in Europe and related decisions made by different governments, all UEFA club competitions matches scheduled next week are postponed,” UEFA said in a statement.
Sports across the globe have suffered major disruption because of the virus with the PGA Tour golf season, the men’s tennis tour, NBA basketball, Major League Baseball and a host of top-flight events interrupted.
England’s cricketers will be returning from Sri Lanka among the latest victims of the sporting chaos. Their tour of Sri Lanka was scrapped on Friday as the team took part in a practice match ahead of the first of two Test matches due to start on March 19.
“At this time, the physical and mental wellbeing of our players and support teams is paramount,” said an England and Wales Cricket Board statement announcing the end of the tour.
More bad news could come as European football chiefs are to meet next week to consider whether to postpone Euro 2020, due to start in June and this year’s other major international sports along with the Olympics.
Tokyo Olympics organisers, Japan’s government and the International Olympic Committee have been adamant the Games will go ahead as planned despite the global panic.