Coronavirus throws international sport into chaos

Milan (AFP) –


As more sports in more countries on Wednesday announced measures to avoid spreading the new coronavirus, the problem of international competitions proved particularly thorny.

UEFA called off two Europa League games on Thursday and a Greek basketball team wanted an away game cancelled, while two German clubs said they were reluctant to release players to national teams in the upcoming international break.

The finals of the Fed Cup, the women's tennis team competition, scheduled for April 14-19 in Budapest, were postponed indefinitely by the International Tennis Federation.

In Germany, RB Leipzig became the last team playing at home in the Bundesliga this weekend to announce their match will be played behind closed doors.

The French League Cup final between Paris Saint-Germain and Lyon on April 4 was postponed. Instead the two clubs will play league matches without spectators.

The Spanish Cup final featuring Basque rivals Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao scheduled for April 18 will also be rearranged.

Argentina announced it was suspending all sports. MotoGP postponed its race in the South American country from April until November. The first four races of the season in the elite motorcycling category have been cancelled or postponed.

The Indian Open, a European Tour and Asian Tour event due to start in New Delhi on March 19, was cancelled on Wednesday.

In Spain, the ban on crowds led to restrictions trickling down on Wednesday. The tennis federation banned spectators from tournaments at all levels, while Spanish football shut down all men's and women's outdoor and indoor competitions below the top two divisions.

Arsenal's game at Manchester City on Wednesday became the first Premier League game called off after players and staff at the London club were isolated at their homes.

They had come into contact with the owner of Greek club Olympiakos, Vangelis Marinakis, who has since tested positive for COVID-19.

At Hanover, in Bundesliga 2, defender Timo Huebers became the first professional player in Germany to test positive. The club said in a statement that no further infections were expected, as Huebers had avoided contact with his team-mates.

Paris Saint-Germain announced that Kylian Mbappe, who had been suffering a fever and a sore throat, had tested negative and could be in their team for the Champions League game against Borussia Dortmund later on Wednesday.

UEFA announced that "as a result of the travelling restrictions between Spain and Italy" the round-of-16 matches between Sevilla and Roma and Inter Milan and Getafe would not take place on Thursday.

Roma had said Spanish authorities made clear they would refuse to allow the team's flight to land.

- International break -

Getafe president Angel Torres had said his team would refuse to travel to Italy, where European matches are an exception to a nationwide sports ban.

"If we have to lose the tie, we will lose it," Torres told Spanish radio. "We don't want to go into the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak."

In Greece, the national public health protection commission agreed with the Olympiakos basketball team that they should not travel to Milan to play Armani on Thursday. The Euroleague responded by moving the game to Berlin, where it will go ahead without spectators.

International football games inevitably mean cross-border travel and the next break is scheduled for March 23-31 when matches include the 16-team playoff for the last four Euro 2020 places.

On Wednesday, Wolfsburg's general manager Joerg Schmadtke, said the club plans to ban internationals from joining their national teams.

"My state of mind at the moment is not to let our players go. I will ban it," Schmadtke told German media.

Axel Hellman of Eintracht Frankfurt, who like Wolfsburg have 10 international players in their squad, said he would prefer to "avoid" making players available for their countries.

Kenya's football federation on Wednesday said they are seeking the postponement of this month's 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Group G leaders Comoros.

In Japan, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics president Yoshiro Mori conceded on Wednesday the organisers were "concerned" about the spread of the coronavirus but said the Games this year are going ahead "as scheduled."

Mori was responding after a member of the organisers' executive board said postponing the Games for two years might be the best option.

Reverse swing in cricket might also be curtailed by the virus. Indian players were warned not to use saliva to shine the cricket ball in the one-day series in South Africa, said bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar.