Coronoavirus: FIA sets up 'crisis cell', LeBron James says it's 'impossible' to play NBA games without fans

As countries struggle to stem the spread of Covid-19, sporting bodies are taking drastic action

A woman wearing a facemask checks her smartphone in front of a poster outside the Formula One Vietnam Grand Prix merchandise store in Hanoi on March 2, 2020 amid concerns of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. / AFP / Nhac NGUYEN
Powered by automated translation

The International Automobile Federation (FIA) has created a "crisis cell" to meet every two days to monitor the rapidly increasing global threat posed by the deadly coronavirus as motorsport reels from a number of cancelled events.

There are growing concerns that next week's season-opening Formula One Australian Grand Prix will be postponed as countries struggle to stop the spread of the virus known as Covid-19 that has now surpassed 100,000 cases worldwide.

"An FIA Crisis Cell has been established and convenes every second day to consider the latest developments around the world," said a statement.

"The FIA will evaluate the calendar of its forthcoming competitions and take any action required to help protect the global motor sport community and the wider public, including the postponement of competitions where necessary."

So far, the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix, which was set for April 19 in Shanghai, has been axed as has the March 21 Formula E race slated for Sanya on the Chinese island of Hainan.

On Friday, the Formula E race in Rome, which was due to be held on April 4, was also cancelled.

The 2020 Formula One season is slated to get under way next week at the Australian Grand Prix, with teams and equipment arriving in Melbourne late last week.

Vietnam has imposed a 14-day quarantine period on any travellers from Italy who enter the country, a policy that would lead to the cancellation of its inaugural grand prix on April 5 if it remains in place.

Bahrain, whose race is on March 22, a week after the season-opener in Australia, has a similar policy but has eased its restrictions for people working at the grand prix.

The NBA has reportedly told teams to look into strategies on how to play games without fans in the arena amid concerns over the new coronavirus outbreak.

As fears grow over the spread of the virus, and sports leagues formulate contingency plans, the NBA on Friday sent a memo to its teams telling them to start "developing" plans on how to play games with only "essential staff" in attendance should that be deemed necessary, American sports broadcaster ESPN reported.

The NBA had sent out a previous memo to teams earlier this week, recommending players to use fist-bumps instead of high-fives with fans. It also said to avoid taking items such as pens, balls and jerseys from fans to sign.

"The health and safety of our employees, teams, players and fans is paramount," the NBA said in a statement on Monday. "We are co-ordinating with our teams and consulting with the CDC and infectious disease specialists on the coronavirus and continue to monitor the situation closely."

Asked about the prospect of being asked to play in front of empty seats, LeBron James said: "Nah. It's impossible.

"I ain't never played the game without no fans. Ever since I started. This ain't Europe," James said after helping the Los Angeles Lakers to a 113-102 win over the Milwaukee Bucks to clinch a playoff spot on Friday

"I play for my teammates and I play for the fans. That's what it is all about."

Davis Cup tennis ties in Italy and Japan are being played behind closed doors this weekend.

In the UK, several media outlets reported that sports governing bodies and broadcasters have been called to a government meeting on Monday to discuss the impact the coronavirus outbreak could have on the sporting calendar.

The meeting is part of the British government's long-term contingency planning and will cover various possibilities, such as holding events behind closed doors, should the virus continue to spread and gatherings of large numbers of people are banned.

It will be hosted by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on Monday morning and another contingency reportedly being considered is banning over-70s from attending games.

Golf continues to be badly affected, with next week's European Tour event in Nairobi and the Asian Tour's Royal's Cup 2020 in Thailand being postponed indefinitely.

In cycling, the CCC and Astana Pro teams have followed Team Ineos and Mitchelton-Scott in withdrawing from races, and both the Tirrenco-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo races have been postponed.

Organisers of the Paris Marathon have announced the race, due to be held on April 5, has been rescheduled for October 18, and the Rome Marathon, due to take place on March 29, has been cancelled.

In tennis, the BNP Paribas Open taking place next week in Indian Wells has announced a raft of health and safety measures, including players fetching their own towels rather than relying on ball boys and girls, who will wear gloves.

The World Health Organisation has called the spread of the virus "deeply concerning" as a wave of countries reported their first cases of the disease - which has now killed nearly 3,500 people and infected more than 100,000 across 92 nations and territories.