Sports and coronavirus: Where professional leagues stand amid the pandemic

Sports and coronavirus: Where professional leagues stand amid the pandemic
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The prospect of resuming sports without live audiences is gaining more attention as some U.S. states begin to relax social-distancing restrictions brought on by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

Professional leagues abruptly halted their seasons in March as the coronavirus spread around the world. Events like the Wimbledon tennis tournament were canceled and the Tokyo Summer Olympics was postponed until July 2021.

While most leagues have yet to form plans to resume, some, including the PGA Tour and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), are preparing to hold events in the coming weeks and months.

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Here’s where pro leagues stand amid the coronavirus outbreak:

Golf:

The PGA Tour announced in mid-April that it would resume its season on June 8 with a tournament in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Charles Schwab Challenge, as well as the next three tournaments on the PGA Tour schedule, will be held without fans, the organization said, adding that it would follow recommendations from local authorities when determining public access to future events.

The tour’s major tournaments were either canceled or rescheduled due to the pandemic. The Masters, originally scheduled for April, will now be held in November.

The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) released a revised schedule in early April showing that its tour would resume on June 19 with a tournament in Arkansas.

Mixed Martial Arts

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The UFC is planning to hold three events in Florida over an eight-day period in May, starting with UFC 249 on May 9. All of the events will be held at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville and no fans will be permitted, the mixed martial arts promotion company announced on Sunday

UFC President Dana White said that only "essential personnel" will be allowed in the arena when the fights are hosted. Following the May 9 event, UFC is planning to host fights on May 13 and May 16. 

Florida's Division of Emergency Management earlier this month labeled pro sports and media productions with a national audience as "essential services," so long as events were closed to the public. 

The UFC postponed all of its events following a March 14 fight in Brazil in front of no fans. White, who spoke at the 2016 GOP convention, has aggressively pushed for resuming fights, and he said that he is working to finalize additional events in late May and June. 

Auto racing:

Formula 1 Racing is targeting July 5 as its new start date. The racing body’s CEO, Chase Carey, said in a statement that the group would hold its first races in Austria without fans.

Austria earlier this month became one of the first European nations to begin easing its quarantine measures.

Formula 1 is also planning on holding races in Europe, Asia and the Americas in the fall. Chase left open the possibility that future races would include access to the public.

The announcement came the same day that organizers of the French Grand Prix canceled this year’s event. Organizers of the British Grand Prix have said that the race will be barred to the public if it takes place.

NASCAR, the most popular pro racing circuit in the U.S., halted its season following a March 8 race. The IndyCar series also postponed the start to its season and postponed the Indianapolis 500 to August.

Basketball:

The NBA, which suspended its season on March 11, is reportedly planning to allow practice facilities to reopen in cities where governments have relaxed stay-at-home orders.

Starting Friday, players will be allowed to participate in voluntary individual workouts. Teams will not be permitted to hold group practices, according to The Associated Press.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said that he doesn’t expect to make any decision on the resumption of the season until at least May.

Speaking about the issue on Sunday, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark CubanMark CubanMark Cuban, Ted Cruz tangle on Twitter over national anthem and China Cuban, Walker battle over Black Lives Matter on NBA courts during Fox special Mark Cuban endorses Biden on Hannity: He 'actually wants to run a country' MORE said that the league had a “moral obligation” to restart the season without fans once health officials deemed it safe.

“We’re dying for content, we’re dying for teams to root for. We’re dying to get excited about games, and just ready to go and cheer as a community,” he said. “I really think if we’re able to pull it off without fans we’re certainly going to do it.”

The WNBA season, set to start on May 15, was postponed. The league held a virtual draft last week, seeing a 123 percent jump in viewership from the previous year.

Baseball 

Major League Baseball (MLB), which pushed back the start of it season in March, is considering multiple proposals to begin games. One reportedly includes a shortened season where teams would play at spring training facilities in Florida and Arizona without fans. 

The league is also discussing a plan to begin a 100-game season in late June or early July that would allow teams to play in their home ballparks, according to USA Today. The league would be separated into three 10-team divisions and only allow teams to play within their divisions.

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The league has yet to publicly address any of the proposals it is considering. 

In South Korea, professional sports resumed on April 21 with an exhibition baseball game. The Korea Baseball Organization said that its regular season will begin on May 5 without fans permitted into stadiums. Taiwan's four-team Chinese Professional Baseball League also resumed its season, placing cardboard cutouts in the bleachers to replace fans. 

Nippon Professional Baseball, the top league in Japan, won't begin its season until at least early June. 

Football

The National Football League (NFL) is planning to hold its season, set to begin on Sept. 10, without delay.

"Our planning, our expectation, is fully directed at playing a full season starting on schedule and having a full regular season and a full set of playoffs," NFL executive Jeff Pash said on April 3

The league has not addressed whether it expects games to be played without fans. Though officials in states such as California have said they don't expect sporting events to be held with an audience until at least 2021. 

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Hockey

National Hockey League Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly has said that the league hasn't "made any decisions" on when play could resume. The league postponed its season just weeks before its playoffs were set to begin.  

Soccer

Major League Soccer (MLS) and the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) postponed their respective seasons in mid-March.

The NWSL is reportedly targeting late June as a potential start date. The league is hoping to be the first pro sports league in America to return and is preparing to play between 16 and 20 games, Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whistler told The Chicago Sun-Times. 

The MLS, which has not set a return date, has acknowledged the likelihood of a condensed season. The league's commissioner said games would likely be played in front of no fans.

Competition around the world was suspended due to the pandemic. England's Premier League has said that it won't resume until medical guidance allows for it.

The Bundesliga, Germany's top professional soccer league, is expected to become the first league in Europe to resume play sometime in May. Germany's infection and death rate has been far lower than other Western nations. 

Tennis 

Most major professional tennis events have been either canceled or postponed. The French Open has been postponed from June to September, while the U.S. Open was pushed from August to September. Wimbledon, originally set to begin in June, was canceled for the first time since World War II. 

“From my point of view, I’m very pessimistic that the circuit can resume normal activity,” Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal said. “Even if we play without an audience, to organize any event you need a lot of people involved, which cannot be ignored. At an international level I see a serious problem.”