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Fear Of Coronavirus May Clear More Sporting Venues

Arturo Donate via Flickr

"What if they had a sporting event and no one showed up?" sounds like the setup to a hackneyed joke.

Yet, if the events of the past couple of weeks are an indicator, that premise may come to pass.

The increasing proliferation of COVID-19, more commonly known as the Coronavirus, has caused sporting organizations around the globe to ponder what to do about playing games in the time of a possible worldwide pandemic.

Soccer matches in Italy and South Korea, track meets in China, golf tournaments in Malaysia and Singapore and showjumping events in Hong Kong have either been postponed or outright canceled in the wake of the spread of Coronavirus.

And where things weren’t delayed or halted, they were staged without spectators. An important marathon in Tokyo was run through empty streets last week, while Japanese officials will bar fans from taking in exhibition baseball games.

Here in Baltimore, an NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament hosted by Johns Hopkins was staged Friday with only players, coaches, game officials and media members to participate and to witness.

The barring of fans was triggered on two fronts. First, the first three Maryland Coronavirus cases were confirmed, though the incidents were in Montgomery County.

Second, classes were canceled at Yeshiva, one of the four schools taking part at Hopkins, when a student at the New York City tested positive for the virus.

None of the Yeshiva players or members of the traveling party were found to be infected, but that didn’t stop a local hotel from canceling their reservation out of a heightened concern.

And there may be more to come. The NBA is directing its 30 teams to come up with Coronavirus-based contingencies in place by Tuesday.

Those plans could include having an infectious disease specialist on call, scaling down team traveling parties and preparing to play in empty arenas.

That last idea is apparently a non-starter for LeBron James, who told reporters recently quote “That’s who I play for. I play for my teammates, I play for the fans that’s what it’s all about. If I show up to an arena and there ain’t no fans in there, I ain’t playing."

And there are those who believe that it might be prudent to consider staging some games without fans until the virus – or perhaps fear of the virus – is contained.

An organization hoping to unionize college athletes is calling on the NCAA to play this month’s Division I basketball tournament sans fans, a move that would surely change the nature of the biggest collegiate athletic event we have.

And the International Olympic Committee may very well have to make a call about whether it’s prudent to conduct the Summer Olympics, the big Kahuna of sporting events with spectators, if at all.

Of course, observer-less games are unusual, but not unheard of. As you may recall, the Orioles played a game without fans five years ago in the wake of riots that crippled the city.

Then, as now, the concern is for the health and wellbeing of all who play and watch. That, balanced, surely, by the potential loss of revenue, which is no joke.

And that’s how I see it for this week.  

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