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Global sport heavily disrupted by coronavirus

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Paris (AFP)

The coronavirus is disrupting sport around the world with the Moto Grand Prix in Qatar and Thailand postponed, a host of football matches put off to a later date and increasing concerns surrounding the Tokyo Olympics later this year.

The virus has already cast a long shadow over the start of the Moto GP season with this Sunday's curtainraising Qatar MotoGP called off, followed by the March 22 race in Thailand.

"I don't say it's cancelled, I just say it is postponed until time allows us to do (the event)," Anutin Charnvirakul, chairman of the Thailand MotoGP organising committee, told AFP.

One of the early races in the Formula One season, the Shanghai Grand Prix on April 19, has already been postponed although organisers say the season-opening race in Australia on March 15 will go ahead as planned.

Olympic chiefs are meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday in Lausanne to discuss the impact of the virus on preparations for the summer Games in Tokyo, and to address the unthinkable -- scrapping world sports' global showpiece for the first time in peace time.

Other events are under immediate threat. The remaining matches in the 2020 Six Nations rugby union tournament hang in the balance -- an emergency meeting of the organisers has been called in Paris on Monday.

The virus has killed more than 3,000 people worldwide, mainly in China, and its effects are being felt across the global economy.

Sport is no exception.

In Italy, the European country with the highest number of deaths at 34, the outbreak wreaked havoc with Serie A football matches at the weekend.

Six games were postponed, including the clash between defending champions Juventus and title rivals Inter Milan in Turin, originally scheduled to be the showpiece match on Sunday evening.

The Italian government has signed a decree that stops sporting activity in the northern regions that have been worst hit by the virus until March 8, unless it is held behind closed doors.

That decision means another five matches next week can only go ahead if played in empty stadiums.

The Italian league has called an emergency meeting for Wednesday in which discussions will be held on how to manage the fixture chaos.

Football in Asia has been massively disrupted, with the start of Japan's J-League postponed till mid-March and a hugely rearranged fixture list for the continental competitions.

- Six Nations under threat -

Rugby officials will gather in the French capital to consider if more alterations are needed to the calendar for the final two rounds of the Six Nations Championship.

The March 7 game between Ireland and Italy in Dublin has already been postponed and no replacement date has yet been set.

The annual tournament -- Europe's premier rugby competition -- is scheduled to conclude with matches involving all six teams on March 14.

The UAE Tour, an early season cycling warmup that featured four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome, was cut short last week after a coronavirus scare.

Looking ahead, concerns are deepening over this year's main sports event, the Tokyo Olympics, which is due to begin on July 24.

Hundreds of thousands of spectators, athletes and officials will converge on Japan for the Games.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said last week his organisation was "fully committed" to holding the Games in Tokyo as planned despite the widening coronavirus outbreak.

Ominously, the decision will depends on factors over which Olympic officials exert no control, and sports federations are already wringing their hands over disruption and forced cancellation of qualifying events for the global showpiece.

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