Coronavirus outbreak

Singapore and global sport grinds to a halt

Concern over spread of infection, quarantine requirements, travel curbs among reasons

The headquarters of the world's most popular football league, the English Premier League, in London. Last night, it announced that it would suspend matches until at least April 3, after high-profile names such as Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chel
The headquarters of the world's most popular football league, the English Premier League, in London. Last night, it announced that it would suspend matches until at least April 3, after high-profile names such as Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea forward Callum Hudson-Odoi tested positive for the virus. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Arsenal Football Club's training centre in St Albans, Britain. Its manager Mikel Arteta has tested positive for Covid-19.
Arsenal Football Club's training centre in St Albans, Britain. Its manager Mikel Arteta has tested positive for Covid-19. PHOTO: REUTERS

From the Singapore Premier League (SPL) to the English Premier League (EPL), from Melbourne to Miami, the Covid-19 outbreak brought world and local sport to a halt yesterday.

The day began with an announcement that Formula One's season opener in Australia would be cancelled after a McLaren crew member tested positive for the virus.

It later said that it would begin its season only in May, meaning the Bahrain and Vietnam races, and potentially the Dutch and Spanish races, are now on the backburner.

Then the Singapore Government announced its latest measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus in the Republic.

Among these was a directive to defer or cancel all ticketed cultural, sports and entertainment events with 250 participants or more.

There was a caveat - events that have already been committed to may still proceed if organisers can demonstrate that "satisfactory precautionary measures" are in place.

But several organisers pulled the plug on their events anyway.

Last night, the world's most popular football league - the EPL - announced it would suspend matches until at least April 3, after high-profile names such as Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea forward Callum Hudson-Odoi tested positive for the virus.

The world's top golfers and tennis players will also be cooling their heels after the PGA Tour cancelled the Players Championship in Florida, as well as all its events to April 5, and the Association of Tennis Professionals and Women's Tennis Association suspended action till April 20.

The world's leading badminton players, who had been due here for the April 7-12 Singapore Badminton Open, will now not be coming, following its cancellation.

Almost all the players in the world's top 10 across the five categories - men's singles, women's singles, men's doubles, women's doubles and mixed doubles - were slated to be in town, including 2016 Olympic champion Chen Long of China and India's first badminton world champion P.V. Sindhu.

The Asean Basketball League (ABL), a regional competition in its 10th year which features local franchise Singapore Slingers, who typically attract about 1,600 spectators to the OCBC Arena for their home games, also suspended its competition indefinitely.

The ABL said yesterday that it had explored all options in an effort to continue but that travel restrictions in the region, quarantine requirements upon the teams' return to their respective countries, and guidelines from multiple government institutions made it impossible.

Slingers fan Clayden Lim said: "It's disappointing that the season is so abruptly halted. But I can also understand the ABL's difficulties... even the NBA (in the United States) have had to suspend the league."

While no player or coach has been affected by the virus here, the Football Association of Singapore announced that matches in the AIA SPL - the nation's only professional sports league - will proceed behind closed doors.

"The well-being of the football family and wider public is our top priority," it said.

The 25th season of the SPL kicked off on Feb 29, and while attendance at games has flagged in recent years, crowds of over 2,500 watched matches between Albirex Niigata and Geylang International, and Tanjong Pagar United and Lion City Sailors.

Ardent Albirex supporter Zulkiflee Roslan said: "It is not an ideal situation but one that is necessary. At least local football fans are still able to watch the games on various platforms like (online streaming service) MyCujoo or the SPL Facebook page."

Another national sports league, the M1 Netball Super League (NSL), had initially made the decision to stage games behind closed doors but then changed its stance after two rounds of matches, allowing teams to have 10 supporters each.

Netball Singapore chief executive Cyrus Medora told The Straits Times that the league has gone back to the closed-door stance ahead of this weekend's matches and remains in consultation with clubs.

Several other sports events also hang in the balance.

The OCBC Cycle, Singapore's largest mass cycling event that was slated for May 9-10 and typically attracts about 7,000 participants, will be re-examined.

"In the light of the escalating severity of the (Covid-19) outbreak, we are currently reviewing the continuance of OCBC Cycle 2020 in May," said Ms Koh Ching Ching, head of group brand and communications for OCBC Bank. "We will share more details as and when we are ready."

The outbreak had already hit high-profile events in Singapore, with the International Champions Cup exhibition football matches, golf's HSBC Women's World Championship, and the Osim Sundown Marathon, cancelled.

The HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens, meanwhile, was pushed back to October from its original April date.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2020, with the headline Singapore and global sport grinds to a halt. Subscribe