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Sounders cope with coronavirus as US sport concern grows

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Los Angeles (AFP)

Coronavirus concern grew among United States sports leagues Saturday with fans banned from games for the first time and Seattle Sounders players making allowances for precautions in a major outbreak area.

Games were played without spectators Friday at a small-college basketball tournament in Baltimore, thought to be the first US sports events contested before an empty arena because of the COVID-19 epidemic.

The NBA has sent a memo to clubs asking them to develop contingency plans to blunt the spread of the virus, including the possibility of playing games without spectators, an option that irked Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James.

"Nah. It's impossible. If I show up to the arena and there ain't no fans in the crowd, then I ain't playing," said James, a four-time NBA Most Valuable Player.

"I ain't never played the game without no fans. Ever since I started. This ain't Europe. I play for my teammates and I play for the fans. That's what it's all about."

Major League Soccer's Sounders, meanwhile, prepared for a Saturday night home match against Columbus in an area that has seen the most deaths due to the virus in the United States.

Sounders players have adopted such strategies as sanitizing weights before lifting in workouts.

"We're getting all our weights, all that stuff, sanitized as often as we can. We have all our hand sanitizer in the locker room," said midfielder Cristian Roldan.

"If you're sick, you don't show up. We just can't take any chances, take any risks.

"It has been a topic, I think, for a lot of different companies, a lot of people working. Just be safe, wash your hands as much as possible, be cautious of how you're feeling, how people around you are feeling. That's something we're really throwing into the mix and putting that message out there."

Older people, some with prior health issues, have suffered the worst impacts from coronavirus.

"I think we're in a pretty safe space, especially us being young and healthy," Roldan said. "That obviously plays in a factor.

"But we're all cautious of what we're doing and if it gets to a point where you can't have games or you can't have people at the games, we have to take the safest scenarios.

"It's a tough time right now and you have to be extra safe."

Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer says team medical personnel are making sure the club has the best working knowledge possible to maximize protection for players, staff and supporters.

"This is a real situation," Schmetzer said. "We're all just trying to be common-sense smart. That's just it. There's no reason to sit there and panic and get all nervous and everything, but it is serious.

"So you try to balance that with them and say, 'Look, take good care of yourself, wash your hands, don't touch your face,' all of those things. If you feel sick, you've got to let our doctors know.

"I'm not concerned about our group having a panic attack or getting bad messaging. We get really good medical advice."

- WGC event precautions -

US PGA Tour officials say they are monitoring events and in contact with health officials ahead of the WGC Match Play Championship set for later this month at Austin, Texas.

The South by Southwest cultural festival, scheduled for mid-March in the Texas capital, has been cancelled.

"The PGA Tour is very mindful of concerns regarding the Novel Coronavirus COVID-19," it said in a statement.

"Our number one priority is the health and safety of our tournament teams, volunteers, players, fans, sponsors and anyone associated with the event.

We have been and are continuing to monitor the developing situation closely through updates from the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization.

"Based upon current knowledge and their recommendations on planning for mass gatherings, we are proceeding as scheduled... We will continue to review the available information with authorities and take appropriate action as advised."

Hand sanitizing stations will be placed at all restrooms, volunteer areas and high-traffic fan areas at the event with potentially extra wipes at hospitality areas.

"The championship is also ensuring thorough cleaning practices with disinfectant in restrooms and food-vending areas each night, and reinforcing with staff and volunteers to be extra vigilant with regards to personal hygiene."

ESPN reported Saturday the National Hockey League would close locker rooms to reporters, conducting all media interviews at a news conference area instead.

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