I think most of us want to escape and focus – when we’re able – on anything EXCEPT the novel coronavirus, but at some point, on some topics, you’re spitting in the wind if you don’t use some of your coverage to focus on the impacts the pandemic is having on sports around the world (because, ultimately, it’s all data that goes toward what we all want to see happen: the return of sports in the United States).
So, this is a modest update on the state of sports elsewhere in the world, as countries deal with the wave of disruption brought on by COVID-19, and also the fallout thereafter.
- In Japan, where the country is something of a rarity in not really having a peak of new cases, but rather a very slow and steady climb since earlier this year, the country is not widely testing. That calls into question just how sure we can be of their containment efforts, but, as it relates to sports, they long ago resumed having baseball activities in preparation for the NPB season, which had been postponed and scheduled for April 24. It was a bright spot of hope. But an outbreak of the virus among three players on the Hanshin Tigers, and escalating cases across the country, has led to reports today out of Japan that the season is expected to be postponed once again.
- I won’t presume to be an expert on how Japan, as a nation, has dealt with the pandemic, or how seriously teams were taking precautions as they prepared for the season. Maybe they did a great job, and this nevertheless happened. But it’s a reminder of just how complicated things would be for MLB in a world where players start once again congregating together in close spaces – using equipment for training – if players developed symptoms or tested positive. Without extremely widespread rapid testing (and/or breakthrough treatment options combined with some kind of post-peak collective decision that precautions will be taken, but some people are just going to get it), it’s virtually impossible to expect players to get back together without mini outbreaks popping up. And when that happens, how do you deal with it? I don’t think there’s a good answer right now – again, because there is no widespread available rapid testing – which is why the NPB is having to push back the start of its season once again.
- Even in South Korea, where containment efforts have arguably been better than anywhere in the world, the impact on baseball remains persistent. Although ramp up activities continue, the start of the regular season has been pushed back, together with the opening of schools:
#KBO also wanted to start preseason on April 7, 1 day after schools were supposed to open after a few delays (Korean academic year starts in March). But schools got postponed again, and KBO pushed preseason to April 21. For now, teams can only play scrimmages. No traveling.
— Jeeho Yoo (@Jeeho_1) March 31, 2020
- Across the pond, the famed tennis tournament at Wimbledon has been cancelled for the first time in 75 years, though it’s partly because of COVID-19 and partly because of the unique timing required for the tournament (on grass courts) to work:
BREAKING: The All England Club confirm the cancellation of Wimbledon for the first time since the Second World War (1945). https://t.co/pr2ha0U7kl
— Stuart Fraser (@stu_fraser) April 1, 2020
- It’s a bummer. Obviously we care most about baseball, but any sports that get axed right now feel like an increasing blow toward our ability to just … be distracted and have communion for a little while. Wimbledon had been scheduled for mid-July.
- The English Premier League (soccer, though they don’t call it that) is dealing with weird political fallout that we haven’t seen here in the States, yet: players with huge salaries – which they are still drawing, even as the league is shut down – are coming under fire from politicians for refusing to step up and immediately start sacrificing. From ESPN, this quote:
Meanwhile, Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, added: “My view is always that those who are the least well off should get the most help.
“Highly paid football players are people who can carry the greatest burden and they should be the first one to, with respect, sacrifice their salary, rather than the person selling the programme or the person who does catering or the person who probably doesn’t get anywhere near the salary some of the Premier League footballers get.
“It should be those with the broadest shoulders who go first because they can carry the greatest burden and have probably got savings, rather than those who were in catering or hospitality who have probably got no savings and live week by week and who probably won’t get the [government] benefits for five weeks.”
- Other top soccer leagues throughout Europe have worked out salary cuts for players, for what it’s worth.
- I’m reminded of Shin-Soo Choo’s recent, voluntary decision to give $1000 to every single player in the Rangers’ minor league system. I don’t know that we should EXPECT players to just do that stuff, but I do think it’s fair to celebrate it when it happens.
- Meanwhile, UEFA is suspending plans for the various international tournaments that happen after the various regular seasons end in the various soccer countries (hey, man, I’m not pretending to be a soccer guy). The point for our purposes: the international tourneys are being postponed to buy the regular seasons time to resume and finish by late summer. That’s not to say the games will resume (likely without fans), but the leagues are clearly still hoping that they can.