Coronavirus continues to hit sport but Japan insists Tokyo 2020 is on track
Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe still hopes to host Olympics ‘without a hitch’
Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe during his press conference in Tokyo on Saturday. Photograph: AP
The coronavirus outbreak continues to affect the world of sport with the Dutch Grand Prix set to be the next race pulled from Formula One’s schedule, according to reports.
There were conflicting messages as to when the new F1 season might start after this weekend’s curtain-raiser in Australia was cancelled, with subsequent races in Bahrain, Vietnam and China postponed.
F1’s governing body, the FIA, issued a statement to indicate the campaign could get under way at the beginning of May — in time for the race in Holland.
F1, however, said the end of May is now the target. And it is understood that the Dutch round — scheduled for May 3rd — would be postponed. Official confirmation is expected at the start of next week.
It is hoped that the Zandvoort race, which returns to the calendar after an absence of 35 years, could be moved to August. The Catalan Grand Prix, due to take place on May 10th, is also set to be called off. It is unclear whether it will be rescheduled.
The majority view of the sport’s travelling circus is to delay the campaign until the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, pencilled in for June 7th, at the earliest, with the possibility of as many as 18 races crammed into six months.
Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton said he was “gutted” not to be involved in qualifying on Saturday. The Briton has remained in Melbourne though and went indoor rock climbing instead.
While speculation regarding the likelihood of this summer’s Olympics going ahead remains rife, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said the country is hopeful of hosting the event “without a hitch”.
The Tokyo Games are due to take place between July 24th and August 9th, and at a press conference reported by Kyodo News, Abe said: “We hope to overcome the spread of infections first and foremost and hold the Olympics as planned without a hitch.
“We will overcome the spread of the infection and host the Olympics without problem as planned.” He also said Japan had a relatively low coronavirus infection rate and had not experienced an explosion in cases as South Korea, China, Italy and Iran had. He said delaying the peak of infections was vital to ensure treatment of those in critical condition.
Abe said Japan did not need to declare a national emergency, although parliament approved a bill on Friday to give him emergency powers and allow him to close schools, halt large gatherings and requisition medical supplies.
On-loan Wolves striker Patrick Cutrone is one of two more players at Fiorentina to test positive for the virus. On Saturday, Fiorentina confirmed the positive tests of Cutrone, defender German Pezzella and club physio Stefano Dainelli. The Serie A club had announced on Friday that Serbian striker Dusan Vlahovic had also tested positive.
British football continued to be affected by the pandemic, with the National League fixtures Barnet v Yeovil, Bromley v Chorley and Woking v Dagenham and Redbridge being postponed.
Despite an unprecedented peacetime move in which the English Football Association, the Premier League, the English Football League, FA Women’s Super League and FA Women’s Championship all agreed to call a halt to competitions with immediate effect until early April, the National League decided to continue with its schedule. And, while five games were postponed in total, the remaining six fixtures still went ahead on Saturday.
Friday’s suspension of football competition followed positive tests for Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta and Chelsea forward Callum Hudson-Odoi, with several other clubs reporting members of their playing and coaching staff were self-isolating as a precaution after experiencing symptoms consistent with Covid-19.
It remains to be seen what the future holds for the Premier League and the EFL, and whether those leagues will actually be completed this season.
The Premier League is set to meet next Thursday to discuss next steps, while the EFL have a board meeting next Wednesday both of which follow a meeting scheduled by Uefa on Tuesday.
England’s cricket tour of Sri Lanka was postponed on Friday and captain Joe Root explained: “There was an element of relief. The right decision has been made. You could see looking at the players that their minds were elsewhere thinking about people back home. Now that we can go and look after families and be with loved ones, that’s put a lot of guys at ease.
“It was clear it was getting in the way of performance and affecting the mental well-being of the guys.”
The ODI series between Australia and New Zealand has also been postponed following tighter travel restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus outbreak. The Super Rugby season, which involves teams from Argentina, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa, has been suspended after the decision of the New Zealand government to quarantine people entering the country for 14 days.
In rugby league, Leeds revealed the player who had been showing symptoms of possible coronavirus had tested negative for the disease. The Rhinos had decided not to travel to Spain for Saturday’s scheduled clash with Catalans Dragons, with a squad member having self-isolated after exhibiting the symptoms.
The club said on Saturday: “The player was tested on Friday and his result has returned as negative. The player will continue to be managed in line with the current English department of health guidance, however the Rhinos squad will return to full training on Monday in preparation for Friday’s Super League game against St Helens at Emerald Headingley.”
The Welsh Rugby Union suspended the community game in Wales from Saturday evening until March 30th, and rugby league activity in Wales has been suspended until the end of March.
World Triathlon announced the suspension of all races and activities until the end of April — shortly after Britain’s Vicky Holland claimed victory in the Mooloolaba World Cup event in Australia.
Meanwhile, there were unusual playing conditions at snooker’s Gibraltar Open, with some of the matches — being played behind closed doors — taking place without referees.