Sport’s tenuous restart thrown into chaos as coronavirus cases mount worldwide

Coronavirus has forced the postponement or cancellation of games across Europe and America’s major sporting leagues this weekend as key players recorded positive test results.

Matches in the NFL, Italy’s Serie A and England’s Rugby Union Premiership have all been impacted, raising significant questions about the immediate viability of those competitions.

The hiatus for major leagues across the world caused enough financial pain to make its resumption inevitable.

And while various sporting organisations have experimented with centralised hubs and COVID bubbles amidst a range of biosecurity measures, those that have opted to maintain as normal a regime as possible are starting to feel the pinch.

The comparatively smooth ride Australian sport in particular has had since resuming operations may have given off the impression that sport’s COVID-safe bubbles are nigh-on impenetrable.

However, the reality has started to bite elsewhere around the world, with matches starting to be affected.

Cam Newton positive causes NFL chaos

New England quarterback Cam Newton is the highest-profile named player to catch coronavirus in the NFL.

His positive has meant that the NFL has been forced to postpone the New England Patriots trip to reigning Super Bowl champions Kansas City.

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A league statement said the Sunday afternoon game would now be played on “Monday or Tuesday” after “positive COVID-19 tests on both teams”.

Kansas City Chiefs backup quarterback Jordan Ta’amu was also named as having recorded a positive test.

“In consultation with infectious disease experts, both clubs are working closely with the NFL and the NFLPA to evaluate multiple close contacts, perform additional testing and monitor developments,” the statement read.

NFL players and coaches are tested daily and are required to wear masks when visiting practice facilities and when travelling to and from games.

Players have also been given strict instructions not to engage in “high-risk activities” but are not isolated away from the general public in a COVID-safe bubble, like the NBA and NHL.

To put an Australian spin on things, the NFL is following a similar system to the NRL.

Of course, coronavirus is much more prevalent in the US than it is in Australia, and the NFL has not had the relative luxury of being able to move a team from a more high-risk area to a lower-risk location like the NRL did with the Melbourne Storm.

All of that means these positive cases are not a surprise.

The NFL’s chief medical officer, Allen Sills, said he would “expect to have positive cases” over the course of the season.

That pre-season prediction has come true, with the Patriots-Chiefs game the second to be postponed in a week.

Earlier in the week, the Tennessee Titans-Pittsburgh Steelers clash was the first game to be postponed after a confirmed positive case in the Titans set up.

That one positive has turned into the NFL’s first cluster, with 16 cases currently confirmed among staff and players.

Delaying matches for any reasonable amount of time could result in a monumental fixture headache for league organisers to shift through.

After all, there’s not much wiggle-room in a 17-week season.

Major League Baseball also had to adapt to this scenario when a number of teams were forced into isolation after cases were recorded across a number of teams.

However, baseball players are used to a hectic schedule of multiple matches per week and were able to make up the games over the course of their truncated season.

The NFL though, is a different beast due to its arduous, high-contact nature.

Having one or more teams delaying their matches only to then play multiple games in a week further down the track is simply not feasible without the team on a short turnaround being at a major disadvantage.

Europe’s sports leagues fixture postponements

The NFL’s situation is being mirrored in Europe, which is grappling with the impacts of a second wave of positive tests.

In England, two final-round Premiership rugby clashes were impacted, with Northampton forfeiting their game against Gloucester and Sale’s match with Worcester being postponed until Wednesday.

Both matches were due to be played on Sunday.

Sale, who could confirm a finals spot with a win, confirmed in a statement that it had been subject to “a number of positive COVID-19 tests” during the week, but that it wanted to play the game.

“Sale Sharks have stringently followed protocols throughout the pandemic in order to contain the spread of the virus,” a club statement said.

“The club is therefore in a position to fulfil its fixture with Worcester Warriors.

“However, after Worcester Warriors expressed concerns regarding the safety of the fixture taking place on Sunday, we sought advice from Public Health England.

“Sale Sharks, Worcester Warriors and Premiership Rugby have decided to postpone the match until Wednesday 7th October 2020 to allow further COVID-19 testing to take place prior to the fixture.”

Forfeiting the fixture would result in Sale handing Worcester a 20-0 walkover victory, and with it any chance it had of playing finals.

In Italy, Napoli may have to forfeit its game against defending champions Juventus in Turin after reporting two positive coronavirus cases among its playing staff.

Cristiano Fonaldo faces the camera wearing a white jersey with black stripes.Cristiano Fonaldo faces the camera wearing a white jersey with black stripes.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus may have their match cancelled this weekend.(Reuters: Alberto Lingria)

AP reported that local health authorities prohibited the team from travelling on Saturday and ordered the team and staff to self-isolate.

Juventus said in a brief statement that it would “take to the field for the Juventus-Napoli match tomorrow at 20:45, as foreseen by the Serie A League calendar”.

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League and UEFA rules state that a game should take place if a team has 13 available players, including one goalkeeper.

Genoa were unable to fulfill this requirement ahead of its match against Torino after over 20 players and staff tested positive.

Napoli played Genoa last week, leading to the increased testing at the southern club.

As cases continue to rise in Europe, it is likely that these interruptions will be sport’s COVID-normal for at least the immediate future.