Players tournament, Australian GP cancelled amid coronavirus outbreak

The Players Championship golf event was halted after one round and the Australian Formula One Grand Prix scrapped as the unprecedented shutdown of elite sport triggered by the coronavirus pandemic continued around the globe on Friday.

In a frenetic 24 hours, Europe’s leading soccer leagues were placed on hold, the top men’s tennis circuit was suspended for six weeks, the NHL shut down and cricket matches ordered to be played without fans.

The Olympics, the biggest sports event of them all, will go ahead as planned, Tokyo organisers insisted on Friday, a few hours after the flame was lit in ancient Olympia at the start of the torch relay.

The coronavirus outbreak has left sporting bodies wrestling with the contradiction of holding events designed to bring large numbers of people together at a time when governments are desperate to stop the spread of a virus transmitted by close contact.

More events look likely to be affected in coming days, with Australia’s most popular sports set to be impacted by government advice against crowds of more than 500 people from Monday.

England’s hugely popular Premier League will hold an emergency meeting on Friday after Arsenal announced that club manager Mikel Arteta had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers, who has three players in self-isolation after showing symptoms of the virus, said England should follow the lead of Italy, France, Spain and the Netherlands in suspending the season.

“There is absolutely no doubt, from a logical perspective. There’s the public health and ethical side as well,” he said.

With Formula One fans queuing at the gates of Albert Park in Melbourne early on Friday for the season-opener, the race was cancelled just a few hours before the cars were scheduled to take to the track for the first time.

The decision came after a member of the McLaren team tested positive for the coronavirus and the British-based outfit scratched from the race.

Six-times world champion Lewis Hamilton welcomed the move.

“This is really serious with people dying every day, lots of people ill and even if they are not ill, many people being affected financially and emotionally,” the Mercedes driver said.

Fans at The Players Championship, often called the “fifth major” of men’s golf, at least got to see the first round at Sawgrass in Florida on Thursday before the PGA announced a ban on spectators at all its events until April 5.

The relevance of that ban proved short-lived as the tournament was scrapped a few hours later along with the next three events on the PGA Tour.

“At this point – and as the situation continues to rapidly change – the right thing to do for our players and our fans is to pause,” the Tour said in a statement.