Sports World Responds to Coronavirus: What's Canceled, What's Not, What's Next

Workers from a Servpro disaster recovery team wearing protective suits and respirators enter the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., to begin cleaning and disinfecting the facility, Wednesday, March 11, 2020, near Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Sports leagues and teams across the globe have struggled to react to the coronavirus outbreak. Confusing information about the illness, combined with contradictory orders from cities and states, have blurred the lines between an effective response and overreaction.


Ohio has just announced that the NCAA basketball tournaments it hosts will not allow fans in the arenas, per CBS Sports:

The First Four NCAA Tournament games slated for Dayton, Ohio will be played without fans in attendance, and the tournament game scheduled for Cleveland will likely be affected as well. This comes after Ohio governor Mike DeWine announced that mass gatherings will be prohibited in the state.

On Monday, March 9, the active sports leagues in North America — NHL, NBA, MLB, and MLS — temporarily closed their locker rooms to all non-essential personnel, including reporters. Meanwhile, several cities and states have banned gatherings of over 250, 500, or 1,000 attendees.

On Wednesday, San Francisco banned gatherings over 1,000, so the NBA will tell the Golden State Warriors to close the arena to fans in their upcoming game against the Brooklyn Nets:

The NBA has temporarily banned any player from the Chinese Basketball Association from signing with a team here. Talks continue among NBA leadership on whether to play more games in empty stadiums or possibly move games from cities with known cases to cities unaffected by coronavirus.

Also on Wednesday, Manchester City of England’s Premier League postponed its match against Arsenal FC after several Arsenal players reportedly came in contact with a club owner who tested positive for COVID-19. Arsenal said in a statement:


Following yesterday’s news that Olympiacos owner Evangelos Marinakis has recently contracted Covid-19, we have been taking medical advice and tracing any individuals who had what the guidelines define as close contact with him at the game 13 days ago.

As a result of this exercise we identified that a number of players met the Olympiacos owner immediately following the game.

The medical advice we have received puts the risk of them developing Covid-19 at extremely low. However, we are strictly following the Government guidelines which recommend that anyone coming into close contact with someone with the virus should self-isolate at home for 14 days from the last time they had contact.

As a result, the players are unavailable for tonight’s match against Manchester City and the Premier League has decided the game should be postponed.

Italy’s sports teams have been hardest hit, with that nation seeing the most cases of COVID-19 outside of China. All domestic sports have been halted until April 3, and international matches will be played with no fans in the stands.

The virus has affected plans for many college basketball teams. The regular season is currently near the end, and conference tournaments are set to start. The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments begin next week. These games are held at several sites around the country, complicating the decision-making process. Over eighty institutions have already announced the cancelation of classes or moving them to online-only courses. The Ivy League canceled its men’s and women’s basketball championship tournaments, awarding an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament to the regular-season winner. The Big West Conference announced that they would conduct their championship tournament without spectators in the stands.


For now, the NCAA tournaments will go on as planned. The NCAA created an advisory committee in early March to handle any coronavirus issues. The panel said in a statement:

The panel members believe that we need to better understand COVID-19 while continuing to work with local, state and federal health authorities such as the CDC. The key is for all stakeholders and athletes to practice risk mitigation at all events. At present the panel is not recommending cancellation or public spacing of athletic and related events scheduled to occur in public spaces across the United States.

Perhaps the most problematic sporting event could be the Summer Olympics coming up July 24 – August 9 in Tokyo. Per CBS:

The status of the games could be up in the air as late as May. By all accounts, it seems like the IOC is going to do all it can to keep the event going, given that a cancellation would result in losses of tens of billions of dollars and severe financial devastation for sports governing bodies that require Olympic income to survive.

Japan’s Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto later clarified that the contract the IOC has with the country states the organization “has the right to cancel the games only if they are not held during 2020,” with no specific dates mentioned.

“This can be interpreted to mean the games can be postponed as long as they are held during the calendar year,” Hashimoto added.


Naturally, the IOC quickly put together a statement reiterating “full commitment to the success of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, taking place from July 24 to Aug. 9, 2020.”

The virus also affected the tennis world, as organizers announced that they were canceling the Indian Wells tennis tournament.

This is obviously a very fluid situation. More changes are undoubtedly coming.

UPDATE: The NCAA announced in a statement late Wednesday that all basketball tournament games will take place with no fans in attendance:
The NCAA continues to assess the impact of COVID-19 in consultation with public health officials and our COVID-19 advisory panelBased on their advice and my discussions with the NCAA Board of Governors, I have made the decision to conduct our upcoming championship events, including the Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, with only essential staff and limited family attendance. While I understand how disappointing this is for all fans of our sports, my decision is based on the current understanding of how COVID-19 is progressing in the United States. This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes. We recognize the opportunity to compete in an NCAA national championship is an experience of a lifetime for the students and their families. Today, we will move forward and conduct championships consistent with the current information and will continue to monitor and make adjustments as needed.

Jeff Reynolds is the author of the book, “Behind the Curtain: Inside the Network of Progressive Billionaires and Their Campaign to Undermine Democracy,” available now at Jeff hosts a podcast at You can follow him on Twitter @ChargerJeff.


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