Coronavirus: ABL and table tennis suspended, Australia bars spectators from most sports, IPL starts 2 weeks late

(AFP) – It has been a freaky Friday (March 13) across the sporting world in more ways than one, as the coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc on more events.

Starting with the cancellation of the Formula One Australian Grand Prix early in the morning, more fans are finding they will soon be starved of their regular fix, not only at stadiums but even on TV, as events are cancelled, postponed or played behind closed doors.

In the afternoon, the Asean Basketball League (ABL) announced that it is indefinitely suspending competitions.

It said: “With the World Health Organisation declaring Covid-19 as a global pandemic, the ABL, with the unanimous support of all its member teams, sees no other recourse but to halt competitions in its ongoing 10th season.”

It emphasised that the ABL was one of the first leagues to react to the current health crisis with the postponement of more than 50 games that started early in February. “Only a single ABL game has been played after Feb 23,” it pointed out.

Elsewhere, the world table tennis body suspended “all activities” until the end of April, joining a long list of sporting casualties of the new coronavirus outbreak.

The International Table Tennis Federation suspension, from Monday (March 15), affects a number of tournaments around the world, as well as training and promotional activities.

“Following… the increased number of international travel restrictions, the ITTF has decided to suspend all activities provisionally, with the health and safety of athletes, coaches, officials and fans as the top priority,” a statement said.

Sports from football to basketball and badminton have been hit by the outbreak, with a swathe of competitions put on hold less than five months before the Tokyo Olympics.

Malaysian football officials said the sport will be suspended from next week and this weekend’s fixtures will be played behind closed doors, they added, after emergency talks hosted by the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM).

“Monday onwards all leagues and competitions under Malaysian Football League and Football Association of Malaysia will be postponed until further notice,” FAM secretary-general Stuart Ramalingam told AFP.

Malaysia has recorded 149 coronavirus cases, although 26 of them have recovered and been discharged.

Down Under in Australia, sports-mad fans were to be deprived of the weekly chance to see their teams live with rugby league, Australian Rules and rugby union forced on Friday to move behind closed doors.

This weekend will be the final chance for most spectators to get their fix of sporting action, after the government moved to halt events of more than 500 people from Monday to counter the sweeping coronavirus threat.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a die-hard rugby league fan, is one those heading to a game this weekend while he still can.

“The fact that I would still be going on Saturday speaks not just to my passion for my beloved (Cronulla) Sharks, it might be the last game I get to go to for a long time. That’s fine,” he said.

It is a major blow for the National Rugby League (NRL) and its 16 clubs, with the new season getting underway this weekend. NRL chief Todd Greenberg said fans will be able to attend round one but then the doors will close on supporters for the first time in the code’s 112-year history.

Aussie Rules is the country’s most popular spectator sport and that too is going into lockdown on the eve of the new season. Round one will be played in empty stadiums next week, although the sport’s bosses reserved the right to revisit the decision should new information from the government and medical authorities come to hand.

It means Richmond will host the season-opener against Carlton at the 100,000-capacity Melbourne Cricket Ground on Thursday with no one there.

The move to shut out fans comes after the Australian Grand Prix was cancelled at the last minute over virus fears, while Cricket Australia banned spectator attendance at Friday’s one-day international between Australia and New Zealand in Sydney.

Australian Super Rugby games are also going behind closed doors after this weekend’s fixtures, while Football Federation Australia said the situation from Monday “will be reviewed in line with the very latest government advice”.

Meanwhile, the start of the Indian Premier League, the world’s most lucrative cricket competition, has been postponed from March 29 until April 15, the Indian cricket board said on Friday.

The two-month Twenty20 competition is estimated to generate more than US$11 billion (S$15.5 billion) for the Indian economy and involves cricket’s top international stars.

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