How coronavirus disrupts elite sport. World Ice Hockey Cup, Olympics in Tokyo and Euro in doubt

Russia can be a lifebuoy for world hockey

Elite sport as an occurrence attracting masses of people has expectedly turned out one of the most affected sectors of world entertainment due to the coronavirus. And according to recent events, we can lose mass sport as a live spectacle in the short run — big competitions are often cancelled and postponed. Realnoe Vremya explains what big sports competitions can be cancelled and why Russia can be an “ark” for world hockey.

Summer Olympics can become winter. Japan is ready to go to extremes

A claim of Japanese authorities that the Land of the Rising Sun was seriously considering a postponement of the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo at the end of the year has become probably the most shocking information for sports fans. And this is the best scenario.

According to Japanese Minister for the Tokyo Olympic Games Seiko Hashimoto, an agreement between Japan and the IOC is a possible postponement of the Games. According to plan, the 2020 Olympic Games were to be from 24 July to 9 August. Test competitions in Japan were already cancelled due to the risk that the disease might spread. “The contract calls for the Games to be held within 2020. That could be interpreted as allowing a postponement,” Hashimoto said delivering a speech in the Japanese parliament.

So we can become witnesses of a dual historic unexpected event: the two biggest summer competitions can be held in winter for the first time — we should remind that the FIFA World Cup in Qatar was the pioneer, which is due to be in November-December 2022. And the Summer Olympics was last held in winter in the middle of the past century: it was the 16th Olympic Games in Melbourne (22 November — 8 December 1956).

World Ice Hockey Cup: to cancel or wait for help from Russia

The world ice hockey cup, which is to be in Switzerland in May, can be cancelled as one of the big international competitions that are about to come.

Switzerland is on the border of Italy, the key hotspot of coronavirus in Europe where the epidemic has a scope of the emergency situation. The number of infected people in the Alpine country as of 4 March was 54 people, the diagnosis of 39 of them was confirmed in the laboratory.

Swiss authorities temporarily suspended mass events (with over 1,000 people), while the local hockey league NLA has already been suspended — the regular championship has ended, but the play-off stage hasn’t begun, which only proves the determination of local authorities to sacrifice sport for the sake of the population’s safety.

The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), in turn, is ready to refuse the competition. The federal has already cancelled seven international hockey tournaments (mainly junior and female competitions), and it seems that neither is it intending to sacrifice its reputation and pose a threat to peoples’ lives just to stage the next world cup.

But the next options were heard from hockey and Swiss functionaries on 6 March: the number of the 2020 world cup participants can be either reduced or the main tournament of the year will be cancelled in general. IIHF Vice President Kalervo Kummola claimed it.

“We are ready to exclude several squads from the number of the world cup participants and hold a shortened version of the tournament. Also, the medical committee of the International Ice Hockey Federation offered to postpone or cancel all March competitions under the aegis of the IIHF,” Ilta-Sanomat cites Kummola.

“The men’s world cup will be cancelled if Switzerland decides to expand the ban on matches with spectators in late March. Then we can do nothing with Switzerland’s decision. Of course, it will be unpleasant if the world cup has to be cancelled, but health is a priority. Of course, we hope that this disease will be stopped soon,” Kalervo Kummola said. Then he assured that they didn’t consider any postponement of the WC, as the organisers had no time for it.

However, according to other information, the IIHF is considering an option in which the WC will move to Russia as the safest country. Russian hockey’s long-term friend as well as that of Russian President Vladimir Putin René Fasel assumed that the cup could move to the resort city of Sochi.

Fasel told TASS that there weren’t a lot of countries to move the tournament. It is very hard, but it could probably move to Sochi. There is also an option in Belarus. So he says they were starting to consider different ways to solve the problem, and they discussed with the IIHF if they cup could be held in Sochi, but Fasel couldn’t say anything until 15 March.

It seems that the IIHF waits for the middle of March to see what the Swiss authorities will do. If the local championship will renew (the ban on mass events is valid through 15 March), the optimal option will be considered to host the tournament in one place. If nothing changes in the host country, Russia can really help.

The Olympic Park in Sochi has all the necessary infrastructure — two top-level arenas (Bolshoi and Shaiba), consequently, two groups can play matches at the same time. Another question is if Russia needs the guests (fans) from the epidemic hotspots.

Italy without football is national tragedy. Is 2020 Euro under question?

Above-Mentioned Italy is the most affected European country because of the coronavirus. According to the latest data, over 3,000 people got infected in the Apennines, 107 people died.

Everybody who has even heard of this country knows that football is the second religion here. Precisely Series A was almost the first to take decisive steps and make sacrificed to prevent the disease from spreading. At first, it was local decisions to hold matches without spectators or postpone big marches. For instance, the key 26th match between Juventus and Inter was put off. The scheduled date of the match is on 13 May, as Juventus and Inter compete in European cups, and it is supposed that the clubs will play the Champions League and European League semi-finals.

Last Saturday, President of Serie A Paolo Dal Pino announced a decision to postpone other four matches on the tip of Minister of Sport Vincenzo Spadafora. The postponed games were in Milan, Parma, Reggio Emilia and Udina. The matches were put off in the regions where the government of Italy had taken measures restricting events with a big number of participants.

But Italy decided to play it big on 5 March: the government adopted a decree envisaging mass events in the country without spectators until 3 April. This applies to all the regions including those where the infection didn’t spread widely. Due to this, the biggest European competition next summer is also under question — the European Football Championship. It should be reminded that several Euro 2020 matches were to be in Italy’s capital Rome. It has never been cancelled in history of this tournament (since 1960).

A Davis Cup match between Italy and South Korea, which was going to be in Cagliari, became another victim of the epidemic in Italy. It won’t have spectators as well according to the decree of the government of Italy. All the fans who bought tickets will be given the money back.

Sport stands together in fight against coronavirus

Apart from strict warning measures in Italy, European football has other impressive examples of how epidemics entered world sport. Football players in the Junior Champions League touch their elbows instead of traditional handshakes. The Scottish Premier League has already issued an official ban on a handshake during football matches.

The Spanish La Liga tried to support China and announced that it would present Wuhan, the coronavirus hotspot, five tonnes of disinfectant gel to combat the infection.

“We wanted to have this symbolic gesture to express and share all of our support and courage to the Chinese people, especially that of Wuhan, just as the rest of the other countries that are being affected," La Liga’s Director of Business and Development Oscar Mayo claimed.

Those overseas also think about what to do with full arenas. The National Hockey League has already taken care of restrictive measures when hosting the upcoming Stanley Cup. According to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, the league has already banned its employees from going on business trips abroad. Those who have personal trips to countries affected by the virus are to remain in quarantine for two weeks upon arrival.

And it is just the tip of the iceberg named coronavirus breaking the system of world sport. Today we, in fact, are witnessing for the first time how world sport is giving way to non-sport factors (except for wars) leaving millions of people without their favourite performance.

By Erik Dobrolyubov