As a new week begins, soccer leagues and organizations are again
tackling with the short- and long-term impact of the spread of the coronavirus.
Sporting events are of particular concern because they are public gatherings, where the virus can be spread among a large group of people who then disperse. Soccer presents additional concerns because of its international aspect and the travel involved.
It's the fear of travel and being confined in small enclosed areas that is driving businesses and individual to restrict or reconsider domestic and international travel.
Because cases can be mild with few symptoms or similar to the common cold, many carrying the virus are unaware they have it and see no reason to stay home. Testing for the virus is not yet even widely available in the United States as kits are just being sent by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to state and local labs. Only when the testing starts this week will authorities begin to learn just how widespread the virus has spread in various localities.
MLS kicked off its 2020 season without incident this weekend. The defending champion Seattle Sounders drew more than 40,000 fans on Sunday for their 2-1 win over Chicago at CenturyLink Field, where extra hand-sanitizer stations were installed and sanitary wipes made available to fans.
The first coronavirus-related death was only reported on Saturday, a second on Sunday and four more on Monday, bringing to six the number of U.S. deaths, all in the Seattle area. Three residents of a skilled nursing facility in suburban Kirkland were among those who died.
In a statement, the Sounders said that the safety and well-being of their fans were of the upmost priority and they were in real-time communication with regional health authorities and Major League Soccer. The league in turn has formed a task force to oversee the situation and coordinate its response while working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Public Health Agency of Canada, other sports organizations and its own clubs.
U.S. Soccer is also holding the SheBelieves Cup over the next two weeks at venues in Florida, New Jersey and Texas. The annual tournament is slated to begin in Orlando on Thursday, where the U.S. women will face England. Spain and Japan have also sent teams to the tournament. U.S. Soccer is working with the medical staffs of the four teams to monitor the health of their players and also coordinating with the CDC.
The U.S. men are slated to play two games in Europe at the end of March: the Netherlands on March 26 in Eindhoven and Wales on March 30 in Cardiff. U.S. Soccer is working with the State Department, as it always does on international trips, but also with FIFA and the Dutch and Welsh federations.
European governments are starting to limit or ban public gatherings in an attempt to slow down the spread of the virus.
In Switzerland, there have been only 24 cases, but a ban on public gatherings of more than 1,000 people has been put in place until March 15. Swiss pro league authorities in turn postponed league play until March 23.
The Relevent Sports Group has already taken the step of canceling all International Champions Cup matches in Asia this summer because of the coronavirus outbreak. Plans remain unchanged for the
United States, where a reduced ICC schedule is expected due to the unavailability of players having participated in Euro 2020.
Big events in the United States and around the world are being closely monitored. There is a petition for organizers of South by Southwest, the Austin event with film, music festivals and conferences that attracts hundreds of thousands of attendees each year, to cancel the 2020 event. Already major firms like Twitter and Facebook have pulled out because of mandatory global business travel restrictions.
Euro 2020 presents a huge challenge for UEFA, which has chosen to play the 24-team tournament in 12 stadiums in 12 countries. On top of that, qualifying isn't finished. The window at the end of March will decide the final four participants under the new format adopted to include the UEFA Nations League in the Euro qualifying process.
At UEFA's annual congress on Monday in Amsterdam, efforts were made to downplay a sense of panic.
Those who spoke on the issue all responded that soccer federations across Europe will rely on guidance from their respective governments and health authorities.
Photo: Leonardo Prieto/Actionplus/Icon Sportswire