Coronavirus: South Korea postpones K League football season, table tennis world c'ships in Busan in doubt

Pedestrians in downtown Seoul on Feb 24, 2020. South Korea is the hardest-hit nation outside China by the coronavirus outbreak, with 833 cases and seven deaths. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (REUTERS, AFP) - South Korea's K League on Monday (Feb 24) postponed the start of the new football season scheduled for this weekend in the face of the growing coronavirus outbreak in the country.

The league made the decision at an emergency board meeting in Seoul.

"The K League has decided to temporarily postpone the start of the 2020 K-league season until the spread of the Covid-19 outbreak eases," it said in a statement.

"This is a measure to protect the health and safety of the citizens and our players with the highest priority against the outbreak of the Covid-19 which has entered a serious phase," it added.

The league had also asked its four teams in the AFC Champions League, the continent's elite club competition, to hold matches behind closed doors, Yonhap news agency reported.

South Korea is the hardest-hit nation outside China by the epidemic, with 833 cases and seven deaths.

Matches featuring Daegu, based in the city that is the epicentre of the South Korean outbreak, and nearby Pohang Steelers, had already been delayed.

On Jan 30, China had announced the suspension of all domestic football and postponed indefinitely the top-flight Chinese Super League (CSL) season, which had been due to kick off last Saturday (Feb 22). Their teams were mostly sidelined from the Asian competition until after April.

The coronavirus outbreak, which originated in Wuhan in Hubei and has infected nearly 77,000 people and killed more than 2,500 in China, has also had a major impact on Asia's sporting calendar, with a host of events cancelled or postponed throughout the region.

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Yonhap also said on Monday that Busan, some 450km south-east of Seoul, was "actively considering" postponing next month's table tennis world championships owing to the crisis.

Last Friday, the governing body for table tennis, the ITTF, postponed the first-stage draw for the March 22-29 tournament.

The ITTF and South Korea's table tennis federation had said they would take advice from the World Health Organisation and the government to put safety measures in place for the event.

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