The coronavirus outbreak has torn into the US and Canadian sporting calendars as two of North America’s biggest leagues, Major League Soccer and the National Hockey League, announced on Thursday they are suspending operations. Shortly afterwards Major League Baseball said it would cancel its spring training games and delay the start of the new season. The news came a day after the National Basketball Association said it would suspend play until further notice.
Later Thursday, the NCAA announced it was pulling the plug on its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, putting an abrupt end to the season less than one day after it said the games would proceed in mostly empty arenas. The NCAA cited the “impracticality” of hosting events that could contribute to the spread of the pandemic to their decision to cancel the college basketball showcase known as March Madness, which generates nearly $1bn in revenue annually through media rights deals, ad sales and corporate sponsorships.
MLB teams have been preparing for the new season, which had been due to start at the end of March, for the past few weeks. There had been suggestions teams could schedule games away from cities affected by Covid-19 but on Thursday afternoon MLB confirmed a delay of at least two weeks to the start of the season. During MLB’s 162 game regular-season, teams criss-cross the continent, visiting most of North America’s major cities.
The NHL, which is approaching the end of its regular season, confirmed it will also go on hiatus with Covid-19 spreading across the US and Canada.
“The NHL has been attempting to follow the mandates of health experts and local authorities, while preparing for any possible developments without taking premature or unnecessary measures,” the league said in a statement. “However, following last night’s news that an NBA player has tested positive for coronavirus – and given that our leagues share so many facilities and locker rooms and it now seems likely that some member of the NHL community would test positive at some point — it is no longer appropriate to try to continue to play games at this time.”
Meanwhile, David Beckham will have to wait for his new Major League Soccer team, Inter Miami, to make their home debut after the league announced it is suspending the season for 30 days.
“Our clubs were united today in the decision to temporarily suspend our season based on the advice and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Public Health Agency of Canada and other public health authorities,” the MLS commissioner, Don Garber, said in a statement on Thursday.
Beckham is a co-owner of Inter Miami, who joined the league this season, and they had been due to play their home opener against his former team, LA Galaxy, on Saturday.
US Soccer, the game’s governing body in the United States, also announced it has cancelled upcoming men’s and women’s international games that had been scheduled for March and April.
“With the health of our players, coaches, staff and fans as our main priority, US Soccer has decided it was in the best interest to cancel the majority of our upcoming domestic and international camps at all levels, including our senior men’s and women’s national team games in March and April, due to the outbreak of Covid-19,” said US Soccer’s chief medical officer, George Chiampas.
The news came a day after the National Basketball Association, one of the richest leagues in the world, suspended its season until further notice. The news arrived in dramatic fashion on Wednesday night when the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder’s game was called off minutes before tip-off. One of Utah’s star players, Rudy Gobert, is believed to have tested positive for Covid-19 before the start of the game, and on Thursday the Jazz announced a second player on the team, believed to be Donovan Mitchell, was also suffering from the virus.
The NBA’s suspension came as the season was heading towards the playoffs, which were due to start in April. The news was met with shock within the league, which has already suffered a tumultuous season. The league lost hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from its most lucrative foreign market, China, after a fallout in October over the anti-government protests in Hong Kong. In January, the league was plunged into mourning when one of its greatest ever players, Kobe Bryant, was killed in a helicopter crash.
The Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban, said safety was the highest priority after hearing news of the suspension. “I trust Adam [Silver, the NBA commissioner],” he told ESPN. “It’s really not about basketball or money. If this is just exploding to the point that players and others have it … you think about your family. Stunning isn’t the right word. It’s not about the team. It’s about the country and life in general.”
The country’s most popular competition, the National Football League, is currently on hiatus with the new season not due to start until September. However, the draft, in which teams select the most promising college players to enter the professional ranks, is due to take place in Las Vegas in late April. The event draws in fans from across the country eager to see stars of the future and could be under threat if the virus continues to spread. Several NFL teams have already restricted travel for coaches and scouts.
There remains uncertainty over whether golf’s crown jewel, the Masters, will take place. The tournament is scheduled for the start of April but the PGA has announced tournaments will proceed without spectators until the Texas Open, the last tournament before the Masters.