English football was forced to join the sweeping global shutdown of sport on Friday with all elite matches – including the Premier League, the Football League and the Women’s Super League – suspended until the start of April at the earliest.
The postponements came on a day when the London Marathon was also postponed until 4 October, next month’s Masters golf at Augusta, golf’s most significant annual event, was delayed until an unspecified date, the Six Nations match between Wales and Scotland pushed back until at least the autumn just 24 hours before kickoff, and England’s cricket tour of Sri Lanka abandoned.
That decision to call off all football matches in England’s top four divisions was taken in an emergency meeting of the leagues after the Arsenal manager, Mikel Arteta, and Chelsea midfielder Callum Hudson-Odoi tested positive for Covid-19. Several other Premier League clubs, including Leicester, Bournemouth and Everton have also put players in self-isolation.
The Football League said in a statement that the situation would be kept under “constant review”, adding that the unprecedented action had been taken “due to the increasing numbers of clubs taking steps to isolate their players and staff because of the Covid-19 virus”.
It is likely that the summer’s 2020 European Championships will be pushed back by a year thus potentially freeing the space in the crowded calendar for the domestic fixture backlog to be fulfilled.
However with the peak of Covid-19 in the UK not expected for another 10 weeks no one can confidently predict when the English season will start up again – or whether it may end up being voided. Cancelling the season was described as “highly unlikely but not impossible” by one Premier League executive to the Guardian.
The Liverpool manager, Jürgen Klopp, whose team lead the league by 25 points with nine games remaining, said he welcomed the decision to suspend matches, adding that it would be worth it if it saved just one life.
“I’ve said before that football always seems the most important of the least important things,” he said. “Today, football and football matches really aren’t important at all …
“We have seen members of teams we compete against become ill,” he added. “This virus has shown that being involved in football offers no immunity. To our rival clubs and individuals who are affected and to those who later will become so, you are in our thoughts and prayers. If it’s a choice between football and the good of the wider society, it’s no contest. Really, it isn’t.”
The suspension of English football also extends to the England international friendlies against Italy and Denmark at Wembley this month which have been cancelled.
And while the final day of the Cheltenham Festival went ahead as scheduled on Friday, the unprecedented disruption continued as a number of high-profile sporting events were pushed back or postponed, including:
• Next month’s London marathon has been postponed until 4 October. Hugh Brasher, event director, said: “We know how disappointing this news will be for so many – the runners who have trained for many months, the thousands of charities for which they are raising funds and the millions who watch the race every year.”
“We know that there will be many, many questions from runners, charities and others and we ask you to please bear with us as we work through the detailed planning process to deliver the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon on its new scheduled date.”
The Boston Marathon has also been moved, to 14 September.
• Scottish football, which had been expected to be suspended from Monday, brought brought forward its suspension to start immediately, postponing this weekend’s fixtures including Sunday’s Old Firm clash between Rangers and Celtic.
• The start of the Formula One season will now not begin until May at the earliest after this weekend’s Australian opener was cancelled and races in Bahrain and Vietnam joined China on the list of postponed events.
• The German Football League called off all weekend matches in the Bundesliga and second tier Bundesliga 2 and recommended that both leagues be suspended until 2 April, joining suspensions in other leagues in mainland Europe.
• The Giro D’Italia cycling race, which was due to start in Hungary in May, has been postponed.
• The Olympic Torch relay through Greek was also abandoned to avoid attracting crowds because of coronavirus. However the International Olympic Committee confirmed that it was “fully committed” to staging the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in July.
• The Swiss ice hockey league cancelled its season – and ruled that it would not have a champion for the first time since 1940.
As things stand Parkrun confirmed that its Saturday morning events in the UK would also continue after taking advice from experts. “We believe that during challenging times it is more important than ever that communities are able to come together socially and support each other if appropriate and safe,” it added.
The Olympic boxing qualifying tournament in London, which features 13 British fighters, will also start as planned on Saturday after organisers received advice from Public Health England that it was OK to go ahead.
The National League, below the top four football leagues in England, is continuing, although some games have been postponed.
Meanwhile the England and Wales Cricket Board has cited “completely unprecedented times” for the decision to cancel the two-test tour of Sri Lanka. Joe Root and his players were in the middle of a warm-up match when the decision was made.
The Players Championship in Sawgrass, Florida, was abandoned after one round yesterday following pressure from golfers including Rory McIlroy.
The Masters, which brings together the world’s best players in April for the year’s first major, only offered vague reassurances about rescheduling the event after it was also postponed due to the coronavirus.
“Ultimately, the health and well-being of everyone associated with these events and the citizens of the Augusta community led us to this decision,” Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said in a statement. “We hope this postponement puts us in the best position to safely host the Masters Tournament and our amateur events at some later date.”