Texas Rangers' Robinson Chirinos watches batting practice during spring training baseball practice Friday, Feb. 14, 2020, in Surprise, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Virus concerns spread in Europe, touch on MLB opening day

March 10, 2020 - 7:15 pm

With just over two weeks until baseball's opening day, Texas Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos said Tuesday he is “a little bit” concerned about traveling to Seattle with the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state.

“I know the season starts in Seattle, and we know how Seattle is right now," Chirinos said. "That’s 2½ weeks from now, so I think we’re going to hear some news when we’re getting close to opening day.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said the state is preparing for potentially tens of thousands of cases, based on estimates of the spread of the disease. The Mariners are scheduled to open their season at home against the Rangers on March 26 and Major League Baseball has said all opening weekend series were still set to run as planned.

None of North America's major sports leagues has postponed games or barred fans in a bid to keep them safe, but discussions about next steps have been ongoing for weeks and such measures have become common elsewhere. Scores of top-tier soccer games in Spain, France and Portugal, as well as some in Germany and a European Championship qualifying match in Slovakia, will all be played in empty stadiums in coming days.

The Spanish league said matches in its first and second divisions will be played without fans for at least two weeks. The league said it was "prioritizing the health of fans, players, club employees, journalists, etc., due to the COVID-19 health crisis.”

The French league said soccer matches in its top two divisions will be played without fans until April 15 and Portugal announced similar measures. Italy earlier this week said all sports events, including Serie A soccer games and preparatory events for the Tokyo Olympics, were suspended until April 3. The Italian ski team decided not to send competitors to Slovenia for the last World Cup races of the season.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the WHO, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks. Those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

Sports and government officials in nearly every corner of the globe have scrambled to address concerns fans could be at risk and to potentially stop the spread of the virus. The fear has spread from Asia — particularly about the Summer Olympics in Tokyo — to Europe and now to North America:

— Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine recommended that fans be kept away from all indoor sporting events. The state is home to the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers and the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets, among others; the Blue Jackets said they did not plan to keep fans away from games this week. The state is also hosting a number of high school and collegiate tournaments this month and the first games of the NCAA men's tournament — the First Four — are scheduled for next week in Dayton. First-round games are also set to be played in Cleveland on March 20 and 22.

The NCAA released a statement three hours after the DeWine's announcement saying it “continues to assess how COVID-10 impacts the conduct or our tournaments and events.”

“We are consulting with public health officials and our COVID-19 advisory panel, who are leading experts in epidemiology and public health, and will make decisions in the coming days," the NCAA said.

— The NHL was also assessing the impact of a decision by Santa Clara County health officials in California to ban gatherings of more than 1,000 people in response to the spread of the virus. The San Jose Sharks have games scheduled for March 19, 21 and 29.

— The NBA told teams last week to prepare for the possibility of playing games in empty arenas, which Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James initially said he wanted no part of and would not play, but said Tuesday he would do whatever the NBA tells teams to do.

“It’s funny because when I was asked the question (Friday) of, ‘Would you play without no fans?’, I had no idea it was actually a conversation going on behind closed doors about the particular virus,” he said. “They’re saying no one could actually come to the game if they decide to go to that point, so I would be disappointed in that, but at the same time you’ve got to listen to the people that’s keeping a track on what’s going on.”

— In Germany, the Bundesliga said six of nine games this week will be played without fans, including one of Germany’s biggest rivalries, Borussia Dortmund against Schalke. The German ice hockey league canceled the rest of the season a day before the playoffs were due to begin.

— Champions League soccer matches are also being affected, including next week’s game between Barcelona and Napoli in Spain and Bayern Munich against Chelsea in Germany. Both games will be played without fans, as will Dortmund's match at Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.

Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp said closing stadiums to fans — a measure not yet taken by English soccer authorities — wouldn't necessarily be the best solution.

"The problem with football games," Klopp said, “is if you are not in the stadiums, then you go watch it closely together in rooms and I’m not sure which is better in this case, to be honest.”

— One of the year's biggest tennis tournaments, at Indian Wells in California, was canceled this week. The next Grand Slam tournament is the French Open, due to start in Paris on May 24.

“The French Open is 11 weeks away," the French tennis federation said. “We are not hypothesizing that it will be canceled or postponed.”

— The Ivy League canceled its men's and women's basketball tournaments, awarding NCAA Tournament berths to the regular-season champions, the Princeton women and Yale men.

— In MotoGP, the Grand Prix of the Americas in Austin, Texas, was postponed until November Bobby Epstein, chairman of the Circuit of the Americas track, said the decision was made by MotoGP because of global concerns over travel, most notably in Italy.

“The risk of shipping everything here, having fans coming here, and then not having an event," Epstein said, "that was too big a risk to take.”

— The Noord-Brabant province in the Netherlands called off all professional soccer matches for the rest of this week. The province includes Eindhoven, where the U.S. is scheduled to play the Dutch national team in an exhibition on March 26. The U.S. Soccer Federation said it is monitoring the situation there and in Cardiff, where the Americans are to play Wales four days later.


AP Sports Writers Ralph D. Russo, Tales Azzoni, Greg Beacham, Jim Vertuno, Mitch Stacy and Pat Eaton-Robb were among those contributing to this report.


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