Coronavirus outbreak

March madness in U.S. sports

A National Basketball Association store on Fifth Avenue in New York City. The NBA was the first major North American sport to suspend its season after a player tested positive for the coronavirus. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
A National Basketball Association store on Fifth Avenue in New York City. The NBA was the first major North American sport to suspend its season after a player tested positive for the coronavirus. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Baseball, ice hockey, football follow NBA in suspending play during 'national emergency'

NEW YORK • Sports across the United States ground to a virtual standstill on Thursday with baseball, football and ice hockey leagues joining basketball by declaring an immediate halt to play due to fears of the coronavirus.

A day after the National Basketball Association's (NBA) shock announcement of an indefinite suspension of its season, Major League Baseball (MLB), Major League Soccer (MLS) and the National Hockey League (NHL) all followed suit.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said the start of the baseball season on March 26 would be postponed by at least two weeks while spring training games were suspended with immediate effect as the US grappled with what he described as a national emergency.

The NHL said it was stopping its season indefinitely, just as ice hockey heads into its crucial play-off season. Its commissioner Gary Bettman said: "Our goal is to resume play as soon as it is appropriate and prudent so that we will be able to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup."

MLS had earlier announced a 30-day halt to its competition.

The United States Soccer Federation cancelled international friendlies and training camps at all levels, scrapping men's games against the Netherlands and Wales this month. Two women's fixtures, Australia (Utah on April 10) and Brazil (San Jose, California on April 14) were also axed.

In another blow for basketball, the National Collegiate Athletic Association cancelled the national men's basketball tournament, popularly known as "March Madness".

On Twitter, observers reflected "March sadness", while The New York Post summed up the nationwide shutdown on its front page with the headline: "The day the sports world stopped".

The swathe of cancellations, suspensions and spectator lockouts is unprecedented in the history of modern US sports, with only the stoppage following the Sept 11 attacks in 2001 coming close to matching the present turmoil.

Team officials said on Thursday that the standstill became inevitable after the disclosure on Wednesday that Utah Jazz centre Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the virus. The NBA immediately announced all play had been suspended until further notice. A second Jazz player, Donovan Mitchell, 23, was also reported on Thursday to have contracted the virus.

Gobert, 27, issued an apology on Thursday for not taking threats of the Covid-19 disease seriously.

FOOLISH ACT

I would like to publicly apologise to the people that I may have endangered. At the time, I had no idea I was even infected. I was careless and make no excuse. I hope my story serves as a warning and causes everyone to take this seriously.

RUDY GOBERT, Utah Jazz basketball player, who on Monday jokingly touched the media's microphones and recording devices after a press conference. He tested positive on Wednesday.

The Frenchman said he had no excuse for disregarding safety warnings. He had triggered scorn on social media on Monday after pointedly touching every microphone and voice recorder on a table after a media conference.

"The first and foremost thing is I would like to publicly apologise to the people that I may have endangered," he said.

"At the time, I had no idea I was even infected. I was careless and make no excuse. I hope my story serves as a warning and causes everyone to take this seriously."

In Florida, the ATP/WTA Miami Open was called off. The hard-court tennis tournament, one of the world's top events outside of the Grand Slams, was scheduled to begin on March 23 and run till April 5. ATP Tour chiefs later declared a six-week suspension of the men's calendar.

In golf, the Players Championship in Florida was cancelled after the first round.

The next four PGA Tour events have also been scrapped, while the April 9-12 Masters at Augusta National, the first Major of the year, has also been postponed.

The LPGA Tour announced earlier on Thursday that it was postponing its next three events, including the first women's Major, the ANA Inspiration next month.

The LPGA schedule had already been hit hard by concerns over the coronavirus that emerged in China in December.

Its lucrative early-season Asian swing was wiped out, with the HSBC Women's World Championship in Singapore among the events canned.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2020, with the headline 'March madness in U.S. sports'. Print Edition | Subscribe