Professional sports — including basketball, hockey, baseball, soccer, and tennis — are all being temporarily put on hold in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, a dramatic step as businesses and government agencies move to limit large gatherings of people to stop the spread of the virus.
On Thursday, the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, and the Association of Tennis Professionals announced the suspension of all games over concerns of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Major League Baseball also announced it would suspend the remainder of all spring training games and delay opening day of the regular season by two weeks.
"This action is being taken in the interest of the safety and well-being of our players, Clubs and our millions of loyal fans," the MLB said in a statement. "Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our players, employees and fans."
The decision came a day after the NBA decided to suspend its 2020 season after the Utah Jazz's Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. On Thursday, ESPN reported Donovan Mitchell, another Jazz player, has also tested positive for the coronavirus.
The NHL noted its decision was made in part because hockey teams share so many facilities with the NBA.
"In light of ongoing developments resulting from the coronavirus, and after consulting with medical experts and convening a conference call of the Board of Governors, the National Hockey League is announcing today that it will pause the 2019–20 season beginning with tonight's games," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "Following last night's news that an NBA player has tested positive for coronavirus — and given that our leagues share so many facilities and locker rooms and it now seems likely that some member of the NHL community would test positive at some point — it is no longer appropriate to continue to play games at this time."
The pause in professional hockey games appears to have no set deadline at this point, with Bettman stating only that the league's goal was to "resume play as soon as it is appropriate and prudent."
As the number of new coronavirus infections increases in the US, several states have canceled large gatherings of people to curb the spread of the virus. By canceling professional sports events, leagues would effectively be shutting down one of the largest gathering places for people in some cities.
Currently, there are more than 1,300 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the US.
After initially saying it would strictly limit who could attend upcoming games, the NCAA announced Thursday that it was canceling its remaining winter and spring championships — including March Madness.
"This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during this academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities," the NCAA statement said.
Major League Soccer on Thursday said its suspension of matches would last 30 days while the league assesses the impact of the virus.
"Our clubs were united today in the decision to temporarily suspend our season," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement.
Men's professional tennis will halt matches for six weeks, which would affect the Miami Open, the US Men's Clay Court Championship, the Grand Prix Hassan II, the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, the Barcelona Open, and the Hungarian Open.
"This is not a decision that was taken lightly and it represents a great loss for our tournaments, players, and fans worldwide," the tennis association's chair Andrea Gaudenzi said in a statement. "However we believe this is the responsible action needed at this time in order to protect the health and safety of our players, staff, the wider tennis community and general public health in the face of this global pandemic."
On Thursday morning, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred also held a call with the owners of the league's 30 teams, informing them of the decision to cancel spring training games and delay the start of the season — March 26 — by at least two weeks.
However, the league also mentioned it would "remain flexible as events warrant," regarding the delay of games.
Although football season does not begin until September, the National Football League also canceled is annual meeting in late March—when it considers rule changes, schedule, bylaws and other major changes—because of "the league's primary concern to protect the health of club and league employees and the public."
Other sports are similarly taking major steps to stop the congregation of large groups of people at their venues.
On Thursday, NASCAR announced that its upcoming races would take place without fans.
"These events will be restricted to competitors, crews, officials and other necessary personnel to conduct the race," it announced Thursday. "We will work with public health officials as we determine future scheduling beyond these events."