By Steve Keating
(Reuters) – From the figure skating world championships to March Madness, North American sport was slammed by the coronavirus on Wednesday, with events across multiple sports and countries canceled or disrupted due to the outbreak.
In a day of unprecedented pandemonium the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League announced some games would be played in empty arenas while Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer said they were postponing contests in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.
The flu-like virus, which originated in China late last year, was characterized as a pandemic by the World Health Organization earlier on Wednesday.
The world figure skating championships scheduled to be held in Montreal from March 16-22 were canceled by the Quebec government and follow the postponement on Saturday of the women’s world ice hockey championship, which was set to begin on March 31 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Canada has a total of 102 confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Wednesday, with Quebec having a total of eight cases.
Two of the United States biggest and most popular annual distractions, MLB Opening Day and college basketball’s ‘March ‘Madness’ were also impacted by the virus.
With Washington ground zero for the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, Governor Jay Inslee banned gatherings and events of more than 250 people in three counties on Wednesday prompting MLB to scrap the Seattle Mariners Opening Day plans and postpone all March home games.
The Mariners were scheduled to kick off the 2020 MLB season with a four-game series against the Texas Rangers from March 26-29 followed immediately by a three-game series against the Minnesota Twins.
The NCAA, college sports governing body, said attendance at both Division I men’s and women’s tournaments which are spread across the country will be restricted to essential staff and limited family.
The NBA’s Golden State Warriors announced that they would play their Thursday game against the Brooklyn Nets without fans while the NHL’s San Jose Sharks next three home games (March 19 v Montreal, March 21 v Boston and March 29 v Arizona) will also be closed to the general public due.
The moves come after the city and County of San Francisco and California’s Santa Clara County on Monday mandated a ban on gatherings of at least 1,000 people for the rest of the month.
As a result of the bans MLS postponed March 21 home matches for the Seattle Sounders and San Jose Earthquake.
The Sounders, one of the MLS best attended teams, was to play FC Dallas while the Earthquake were to host Sporting KC.
While sporting schedules were thrown into chaos on Wednesday more disruptions are expected in the coming days.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced on Wednesday that an order prohibiting mass gatherings is forthcoming which would likely impact the states professional teams, the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets and MLS Columbus Crew, MLB Cleveland Indians and NBA Cavaliers.
In light of the expected ban the Blue Jackets said they will abide by any mandate and will restrict attendance to all games, including Thursday’s contest against the Pittsburgh Penguins, to home and visiting club personnel, credentialed media and broadcast partners, essential club and arena staff and NHL officials.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Ponte Vedra, Florida. Additional reporting Frank Pingue, Amy Tennery, Rory Carroll. Editing by Michael Perry)