F1 season start in the balance, Real Madrid in quarantine

World (AFP) –


Formula One's season-opening Australian Grand Prix looks set to be scrapped while Spain's La Liga and the ATP tennis tour paused their seasons and the NBA halted games indefinitely as the coronavirus pandemic rocked world sport on Thursday.

A source told AFP that "the majority of stakeholders" were in favour of calling off Sunday's race in Melbourne, which was thrown into chaos earlier in the day when McLaren pulled out after one of its team members tested positive for the virus.

A crisis meeting was held to discuss whether the GP should go ahead between the race organisers, global governing body the FIA, teams and Formula One promoters. Most agreed that the first leg of the 2020 season should not be staged.

Even before McLaren made their announcement, reigning world champion driver Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes said he was "very surprised" that the race was scheduled to go ahead.

"I don't think it's great that we have races but it really is shocking that we're all sitting in this room," Hamilton said at a pre-race press conference packed with media.

US President Donald Trump said Thursday that the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo could be postponed for a year, although organisers insist the Games will go ahead.

Trump said that he liked the idea of a postponement "better than I like having empty stadiums" on the day the lighting of the Olympic flame went ahead in Greece in a ceremony closed to the public.

- Football calendar chaos -

The football season took another hit on Thursday when La Liga decided to suspend matches in Spain's top two divisions for at least two weeks after Real Madrid confirmed its senior football team was in quarantine following a positive test for one of the club's basketball players. The teams share facilities.

Real Madrid said "it has been decided to close the facilities at our training ground and it is also recommended that all Real Madrid personnel who work there remain in quarantine".

Serie A in Italy, the European country worst hit by the virus, has already suspended its matches until April 3 while France's Ligue 1 will continue its season but without spectators.

The ATP tour said men's tennis tournaments would be halted for the next six weeks.

"We believe this is the responsible action needed at this time in order to protect the health and safety of our players, staff, the wider tennis community and general public health in the face of this global pandemic," said ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi.

In the United States, Major League Baseball delayed the start of its season by two weeks, and the NBA suspended its season after a Utah Jazz player, thought to be Rudy Gobert from France, tested positive for coronavirus.

This led to his team's game against Oklahoma City to be abandoned just before tip-off when many spectators were already in their seats.

- Next steps -

The league said the affected player was not at the arena and was being treated by health officials in Oklahoma City.

"The NBA is suspending game play following the conclusion of tonight's schedule of games until further notice," the league said. "The NBA will use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic."

The Jazz issued a statement saying the player had flu-like symptoms but initially tested negative for influenza and a respiratory infection.

Gobert had angered members of the Jazz media on Monday when he deliberately touched every microphone at a news conference, in what appeared to be a show of bravado about the virus.

Norway's Aleksander Kilde won alpine skiing's men's World Cup title after the final races of the season at Kranjska Gora at the weekend were scrapped because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The ski resort in Slovenia, close to the Italian border, was to host a giant slalom and a slalom on Saturday and Sunday but Kilde clinched his first overall title as the campaign ended early.

The women's ski season had been ended prematurely on Wednesday, handing the overall title to Federica Brignone of Italy ahead of Mikaela Shiffrin, who finished second after missing a month of the season following the death of her father.

In India, cricket leaders are meeting Saturday to decide the fate of the Indian Premier League.