clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How coronavirus could impact the Olympics and other sports

The growing pandemic could have major effects on sports.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

As nations around the world brace themselves for the spread of Covid-19 (coronavirus), the global sports community is also trying to determine how to move forward in the coming months. The virus, which is now present in dozens of countries, is most heavily impacting China, South Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan — the expectation being the virus will spread farther, potentially disrupting daily life in nations around the world.

Sporting events are of major concern as vectors for infection. Thousands of people in close proximity gathering in one location naturally increases risk of viral spread, and with so much still unknown about Covid-19’s transmission (particularly whether the illness spreads asymptomatically) leagues and governing bodies will have to determine whether to cancel or postpone major sporting events to prevent spreading the virus.

The biggest immediate impact to a large-scale event in the United States are the NCAA March Madness tournaments scheduled to begin on March 17. At this time, there is no plan to delay or postpone games, but an NCAA spokesperson told USA Today they are “keenly aware” of the virus and will continue to monitor the situation and advisories from the CDC.

John Hopkins decided the risk wasn’t worth it. The school announced on March 5 that the first two rounds of the NCAA Division III tournament, scheduled to be held at the school, would be played without fans due to CDC guidelines on large crowds during the outbreak.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is taking a “wait and see” approach regarding the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the largest sporting event potentially impacted by Covid-19. There’s a possibility the games could be moved should it prove too risky to hold the games in Tokyo. However, former IOC member Dick Pound told the New York Times attempting to move the Olympics in five months is impossible because of infrastructure and planning that takes years to put in place.

The 2020 BNP Paribas Open was cancelled after a confirmed case of the virus was found in the Coachella valley, close to Indian Wells. Initially there was discussion whether to hold the event without spectators, but ultimately tournament organizers decided against it.

In an unprecedented move in the NBA, the Warriors will host a game against the Nets without a crowd. It’s unclear if this will be expanded to more games in the future. In a similar move the Seattle Mariners will not play their home opener at T-Mobile park.

There are major ramifications for the San Jose Sharks in the NHL. A ban on all events exceeding 1,000 people will go into effect in Santa Clara, which presumably would affect Sharks home games. The ban is slated to begin on March 11, with the Sharks holding their first home game on March 19. The prevailing thought is that the Sharks will still play at home, but without a crowd in attendance.

The Ivy League announced that it would cancel its conference tournament as a result of the outbreak. It then followed the announcement with an expansion that would cancel all sporting events in the conference this spring. The College Basketball Invitational also cancelled the 2020 tournament out of concerns regarding the pandemic.

The XFL is currently not planning to alter its schedule. Seattle will host a game as planned, despite the ongoing pandemic in the region.

A Six Nations rugby match between Ireland and Italy has been indefinitely postponed after Irish health minister Simon Harris advised the team against traveling to Italy to play. Eleven cities in northern Italy are dealing with significant Covid-19 outbreaks with an estimated 528 diagnosed cases. Five matches scheduled to take place in Italy’s Serie A this week will instead take place behind closed doors in an effort to keep the soccer league moving forward while protecting the public from infection.

Three cycling events in Italy have also been impacted, with the Milano-Sanremo, Tirreno-Adriatico and Giro di Sicilia all being cancelled as a result of coronavirus. This came a day before an official announcement that all sporting events in Italy would be cancelled until April 3 due to the virus.

Despite international rugby being effected by the virus, international soccer appears to be moving forward as planned. UEFA announced that despite the rising number of cases in Italy there will not be any plans to move, or cancel the Euro 2020 championship, which is scheduled to kick off in Rome this June.

Sporting events in Asia are bearing the brunt of the epidemic. South Korea was set to host the World Short Track Speed Skating Championships, which have now been cancelled outright, while the Table Tennis World Championship is postponed until June.

Even the world of chess is being effected, despite having very little human contact. Over-50 and Over-65 tournaments issued special health guidelines to competitors asking them not to shake hands following matches. It’s also been suggested that players may resort to wearing gloves, should the pandemic require it.

Epidemiologists are trying to get a better sense of the threat of Covid-19 and how it spreads, but for now the best defense in affected areas is frequent hand-washing, protective masks and avoiding heavily populated areas as much as possible.