By Martyn Herman and Amy Tennery
LONDON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The coronavirus pandemic shredded the global sporting calendar on Thursday, with men’s tennis shut down for six weeks, top European soccer leagues placed on hold, NHL suspended and Major League Baseball’s opening day postponed.
Speculation over whether the world’s premier sporting events could go forward under the specter of coronavirus culminated in a series of unprecedented postponements and cancellations across the globe, as the sporting world faced an uncertain future.
Major League Baseball said it would delay its season’s opening day by at least two weeks, while motor racing’s blue-riband Formula One season has also been stalled with the opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne called off, according to multiple media reports.
The first round of golf’s Players Championship at Sawgrass continued, however, although the PGA announced a ban on spectators at all its events through April 5.
Many fans were already in place midway through the opening day’s play at golf’s unofficial fifth major but they will not be able to watch the second round on Friday.
Thousands of miles away in ancient Olympia, the Olympic flame was lit at the start of the torch relay although, with the coronavirus crisis affecting all sports, the road to the Tokyo Olympics appears, at present, a distant one.
The men’s tennis ATP Tour announced that no tournaments would take place until after April 20 at the earliest, wiping out the prestigious Miami and Monte Carlo Opens as well as events in Houston, Marrakech and Barcelona.
“This is not a decision that was taken lightly and it represents a great loss for our tournaments, players, and fans worldwide,” ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said, adding that they had had to take “responsible action”.
Earlier this week the prestigious Indian Wells tournament was canceled and the International Tennis Federation (ITF) has suspended all its events until April 20, including the inaugural revamped Fed Cup Finals scheduled for Budapest.
The women’s WTA Tour, reacting to the Miami Open cancellation, said the Volvo Car Open in Charleston would not be held and that it would make a decision this week on the European claycourt season.
The National Basketball Association (NBA) suspended the season until further notice on Wednesday after a Utah Jazz player tested positive for the coronavirus.
“The NBA will use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic,” a statement said.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced it had temporarily suspended its season in a statement issued after a conference call with the board of governors.
Major League Baseball suspended Spring Training and said it would place opening day on hold, while Major League Soccer announced a 30-day suspension for its current season.
The NCAA’s “March Madness” basketball tournament, one of the most popular annual sporting events in America, was also canceled.
In soccer, domestic leagues, the Champions League and the pan-continental 2020 European Championship were all in limbo.
France, Spain and the Netherlands became the latest nations to suspend all matches.
Spanish giants Real Madrid put their squad into quarantine after a member of the club’s basketball team tested positive on Thursday and their Champions League last-16 clash at Manchester City next week has been postponed.
“Given the circumstances that are coming to light this morning, referring to the quarantine established in Real Madrid and the possible cases in players from other clubs, La Liga considers it appropriate to continue to the next phase of the protocol of action against COVID-19,” Spain’s La Liga said.
Juventus’s Champions League tie against Olympique Lyonnais Lyon next week has also fallen by the wayside.
Italy’s Serie A has already stopped until at least April 3 with the country in lockdown after more than 15,000 infections and over 1,000 deaths.
Two Serie A players, Sampdoria’s Manolo Gabbiadini and Daniele Rugani of Juve, have tested positive.
England’s Premier League appears set to continue, however, with Britain’s government saying it would “not necessarily” reduce large scale gatherings despite the response to the crisis being moved up from the “contain” to the “delay” phase.
Three Leicester City players were self-isolating after showing symptoms of coronavirus.
European soccer’s governing body UEFA will hold an emergency meeting with 55 football federations on Tuesday to discuss the effect of the crisis on domestic leagues, European competitions and Euro 2020 which is due to start in June.
Two of Thursday’s Europa League matches were postponed but some games were played and Manchester United crushed LASK Linz 5-0 behind closed doors in Austria.
Rugby’s PRO14 season and Euroleague, Europe’s elite club basketball competition, have been suspended, while in India the government has ordered international cricket matches to be played in empty stadiums.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman and Amy Tennery; Editing by Ken Ferris and Ed Osmond)