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Warriors to play behind closed doors as NBA urged to bar fans over coronavirus

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Los Angeles (AFP)

The Golden State Warriors will play behind closed doors to combat the spread of the coronavirus, the team said Wednesday, as regional authorities began to issue blanket bans on spectators at sporting events.

The Warriors said in a statement the team would play before empty stands at their Chase Center home on Thursday when they take on the Brooklyn Nets -- the first NBA game to be directly impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

"Due to escalating concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, and in consultation with the City and County of San Francisco, tomorrow night's game vs. the Nets at Chase Center will be played without fans," the Warriors said in a brief statement on Twitter.

All other events at the venue scheduled through March 21 would be postponed or cancelled, the team said.

The Warriors' statement came as San Francisco authorities announced a two-week ban on all gatherings of crowds larger than 1,000 people.

The San Francisco Giants baseball team said a planned pre-season game against the Oakland Athletics on March 24 would be rescheduled.

In a separate development, authorities in Washington state announced a ban on all gatherings of more than 250 people in three counties until at least the end of March, including the area which covers Seattle.

"It is clear that our state needs a more vigorous and more comprehensive and more aggressive position if we are going to slow the spread of this epidemic," Washington Governor Jay Inslee said.

Major League Soccer's Seattle Sounders later said a game against FC Dallas on March 21 had been postponed.

The Seattle Mariners baseball team issued a statement soon after Inslee's remarks saying they would seek to reschedule the club's opening home games of the 2020 season, which had been set for late March.

"While we hope to be back playing baseball in Seattle as soon as possible, the health and safety of our community is the most important consideration," the Mariners said.

- Crowd risk -

So far the major professional sports leagues in the United States have not issued blanket edicts on policies regarding spectator access and the coronavirus.

However earlier Wednesday, a senior US public health official urged the NBA to stage games behind closed doors to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a US Congressional panel in Washington that the agency believed any large gatherings of people represented a risk of COVID-19 spreading.

"We would recommend that there not be large crowds. If that means not having any people in the audience, as the NBA plays, so be it," Fauci said. "Anything that has large crowd is something that would give the risk to spread."

Fauci is the most senior official to publicly advocate for sports to be played in fan-free arenas as the United States grapples with the coronavirus outbreak.

Although Fauci's remarks related to a question about basketball, his comments could effectively force the hand of other sports leagues across North America.

ESPN reported on Wednesday that the NBA was studying a range of measures to mitigate the spread of the virus, including moving games to neutral venues or cities without outbreaks.

The NBA regular season is set to continue through April 15 followed by about two months of playoff games, although league officials were reportedly set to begin a series of calls on Wednesday to talk over the next steps in dealing with coronavirus issues.

European football leagues have played matches without spectators and the option has been discussed, the league sending a memo to clubs telling them to look into what it would take to play home games without spectators.

The NBA has already eliminated media from locker rooms, a staple of US team sport post-game interaction, in what the league vows will be a temporary measure.

According to US health officials, more than 1,000 people in the United States have contracted the coronavirus and at least 31 deaths have been attributed to it.

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