Baseball and basketball played before empty stands. Soccer leagues delayed matches. Clubs left out of Asian competitions or matches were forced to relocate.
And the rapidly spreading virus that has infected more than 81,000 people globally and left more than 2,750 dead, mostly in China, continues to threaten the Tokyo Olympics which begin July 24.
One of the biggest rights holders of the Olympics, media giant Discovery Inc., said Thursday it had insurance to protect itself from a loss of revenue if the Olympics don’t proceed. The company discussed the prospect of the games being canceled during an earnings call to reassure investors.
“We continue to work very closely with the IOC and follow their lead,” said Jean-Briac Perrette, president of Discovery International. “If the event doesn’t happen … it won’t be an adverse impact on our financials.”
Earlier this week, International Olympic Committee veteran Dick Pound warned that the Tokyo Games could be canceled because of the coronavirus, saying a decision could be needed by late May.
Discovery says is in contact with the World Health Organization as well as Olympic organizers.
“We continuously monitor any potential situations and take all steps required to ensure the well-being of staff,” the company said in a statement. “We have full confidence that our partners, together with the relevant authorities, will take any measures necessary.”
Five-time Olympic swimming gold medalist Ian Thorpe said Australia’s athletes should consider their long-term health before deciding to compete in Japan in July.
“I would most definitely be concerned,” said Thorpe, who still has a profile in Japan long after retiring from competitive swimming. “What we need …is to use some of the best expert disease specialists to find out what is the risk to the team. What is the risk to the other nations and how can we have an Olympic Games, one that is safe, that doesn’t put athletes at risk?”
NBC’s Olympics unit refused comment on what insurance provisions might be included in its contract with the IOC. NBC is scheduled to broadcast over 7,000 hours across its television and streaming platforms.
“The safety of our employees is always our top priority, but there is no impact on our preparations at this time,” NBC spokesman Chris McCloskey said.
The impact of the Covid-19 virus on sports in Asia is already being noticed, with a surge of postponements spreading from China, where the outbreak started, to South Korea and Japan.
The three biggest soccer leagues in Asia have gone into recess, as the governments of China, South Korea and Japan try to contain the fallout of the rapidly spreading virus.
Japan’s professional baseball league says it will play its 72 remaining preseason games in empty stadiums because of the threat of the spreading coronavirus. The regular season is to open on March 20.
“This was a bitter decision to make,” Commissioner Atsushi Saito said. “Because we can’t determine the situation, I won’t say anything right now about (opening day). “If possible, we all want to go ahead on March 20.”
Beyond sports, worries over the expanding economic fallout of the crisis multiplied Thursday, with factories idled, trade routes frozen and tourism in trouble, while a growing list of nations braced for the illness to breach their borders.
Japan’s top soccer league, the J-League, has halted all play until March 15. That announcement came less than a week after South Korean authorities postponed the start of the K-League season, which came after the suspension of the lucrative Chinese Super League. The South Korean domestic basketball season will finish with games without fans.
Continental competition has been disrupted, with Chinese clubs excluded from the start of the competitions including the Asian Football Confederation’s Asian Champions League. Other countries in Asia have refused to allow Chinese teams to enter, or placed Chinese sports teams in quarantine.
On Thursday, the governing body for Super Rugby said a match between the Australia-based Brumbies and Japan’s Sunwolves set for Osaka on March 6 would likely be relocated. If that were not possible, the teams would receive two competition points each, as they would if the match was drawn.
Other matches involving the Sunwolves, who play some of their home matches in Singapore, were likely to be affected in the the tournament that involves clubs from South Africa, New Zealand, Argentina, Australia and Japan..
The Hong Kong Sevens, the annual highlight of the rugby sevens global competition, has been pushed back to later in the year. Major events in China, including the Formula One Grand Prix and the track and field world indoor championships, were among the first to be postponed.
AP Sports Writer Stephen Wade in Tokyo and Joe Reedy in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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