Covid-19 around world sport: NFL in chaos, golfers won’t travel and Ash Barty quits US Open

You could be fooled into thinking sport on the whole had bounced back quite well from the coronavirus pandemic, which shows no signs of slowing up.

The successful return and completion of European football has been widely marvelled, as the world’s most popular sport prepares to enter its European competition stage and conclude both the Champions League and Europa League campaigns.

But stepping away from football’s bubble, global sport remains blighted by the contagious virus, which now poses the real threat of scuppering the coming season for a host of disciplines.

Sportsmail examines the far-reaching effects of the pandemic, to observe which sports are left in tatters and which remain shrouded in uncertainty.

Sport around the world is still facing huge repercussions of coronavirus, despite desperate attempts to employ stringent testing and unprecedented safety measure

Golf

One of the first sports to return, golf’s reintroduction was accelerated somewhat by US President Donald Trump’s desperation to get his beloved game back in operation.

Golf was placed under the initial list of permitted sporting activities in the US, and saw a slow introduction back into UK life despite The Open being cancelled.

With the 2020 Ryder Cup postponed and the majors badly hampered as a result, golf is now looking to get itself back on track with the first of its four big events, the US PGA Championship, now taking place at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco from August 6-9.

Rory McIlroy has said he will not compete in European events this year due to travel worries

Rory McIlroy has said he will not compete in European events this year due to travel worries

Fans will not be present, and golf has already shown that events – such as the Memorial – can be concluded safely. 

But with still increasing figures of Covid-19 cases in the United States and the nation’s apparent lax attitudes towards the virus, many of the top pros are seriously re-considering.

Former world No.1 Lee Westwood has already said he does not feel comfortable travelling to the US and sharing a long-distance flight, and will not be participating in the PGA Championship as a result.

‘I’m still more concerned that America doesn’t take it as seriously as the rest of the world. It still seems to be one of the hotspots for outbreaks,’ he told the BBC.

‘I can control me not getting the virus and take all the measures I can, but somebody might pass it on. I don’t really want to get ill with it and I’m slightly asthmatic.

Former world No.1 Lee Westwood will not travel to the USA for the revised PGA Championship

Former world No.1 Lee Westwood will not travel to the USA for the revised PGA Championship

Closer to home, Rory McIlroy, has poured cold water on the idea of competing across the European tour due to the ongoing uncertainty of travel, and many countries appearing to be on the cusp of a second wave.

He said: ‘I honestly don’t know if I see myself going back to Europe this year.

‘I don’t know if I want to travel, I don’t know if I want to be exposed to more things and more people.

McIlroy has said that while he understands why fellow competitor Westwood is choosing not to travel to San Francisco for the PGA Championship, he would return to Europe if there was a major on the schedule.

Tennis

With Wimbledon cancelled for the first time since World War II, tennis is still feeling the shockwaves of disruption.

Due to the frequent nature of travelling within tennis, and working alongside others in close quarters, concern has started to spread among the athletes.

This goes right up to the very top, as seen with world No.1 Ashleigh Barty, who this week officially announced her withdrawal from the US Open.

World No.1 Ashleigh Barty will not play at the US Open, bringing the grand slam into question

World No.1 Ashleigh Barty will not play at the US Open, bringing the grand slam into question

It’s a crushing blow to the New York grand slam, and questions the legitimacy of the competition given it is not at full strength.

‘My team and I have decided that we won’t be travelling to the US and Western and Southern Open and the US Open this year,’ Barty said in a statement issued by her manager.

The 24-year-old Australian is still weighing up whether to resume her season in Europe and ultimately try to defend her French Open crown in Paris.

Other top pros are soon expected to follow suit and announce their withdrawals from tennis’s main spectacles.

The often controversial Nick Kyrgios has emerged as the voice of reason during the pandemic, highlighting the dangers and being particularly critical in the aftermath of Novak Djokovic’s positive testing following his careless hosting of his Adria tournament.

Nick Kyrgios has emerged as a voice of reason and has suggested he will withdraw from events

Nick Kyrgios has emerged as a voice of reason and has suggested he will withdraw from events

Kyrgios himself has suggested he will be pulling out of upcoming events, and missed his eagerly anticipated clash with Alexander Zverev – who he branded ‘selfish’ for partying amid the crisis – in early July after pulling out of an exhibition event in Berlin.

What appears clear, however, is that a continuous rise of tournament drop-outs will hinder the sport throughout the next calendar year. Tennis could be looking at a wait until at least 2022 before a full year contains each grand slam event with a complete field of competitors present.

Snooker

It has been assumed that snooker would quietly go about its business in the aftermath of the first wave of covid-19 cases, yet this is anything but the case.

The Crucible is attempting to pilot a first safe return of fans to the auditorium, but one of the sport’s biggest names feels this is a foolish idea.

Five-times world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan claims players are being treated like ‘lab rats’ at this year’s world championship and being put at unnecessary risk.

O’Sullivan claims anyone unconcerned by the decision to allow some spectators into the event must have a ‘death wish’, and now holds real concerns for his own health.  

Ronnie O'Sullivan claims players are being treated like 'lab rats' with the trialing of fans return

Ronnie O’Sullivan claims players are being treated like ‘lab rats’ with the trialing of fans return

The 44-year-old is set to start his campaign against Thailand’s Thepchaiya Un-Nooh on Sunday, but didn’t hold back in his assessment of snooker in the wake of covid-19. 

‘They’re treating this snooker event like lab rats really, so what can you do?’ he told The Guardian, before making a jibe at the perception of snooker players not being as important as other global athletes.

‘Maybe they have to start doing tests on crowds at some point. You’ve got to start [bringing fans back] somewhere, [so why not] start with snooker players – less insurance to pay out for Anthony Hamilton than there is for Lewis Hamilton.

Anthony Hamilton has pulled out of the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible

Anthony Hamilton has pulled out of the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible

‘I defy anybody, if they’ve been keeping their distance from people for four months, to say: “Oh, right, now you’ve got to go into a room full of people” – unless you’ve got a death wish, and some people have in many ways and they just don’t care.’

Those limited numbers of spectators who have managed to get a ticket will have to undergo serious protocol which includes signing a code of conduct and wearing face masks as they make their way to their seats. The masks can be removed during play.

On Thursday, Anthony Hamilton pulled out of the World Snooker Championship because of concerns about spectators being present at the Crucible.

The 49-year-old, who suffers from asthma, this week described the decision to let fans back in as ‘ridiculous’ and warned it could lead to a person dying ‘for no reason at all’. 

NFL

American football has been rocked by the pandemic, and understandably so.

With the United States now emerging as somewhat of a danger zone regarding coronavirus, many athletes are taking action into their own hands.

Of the 16.5million confirmed cases globally, almost 4.5million can be found in America. The figure is, of course, expected to be much higher though not officially medically confirmed.

A series of high-profile NFL players are now opting against starting the new season until further clarity is offered with rigid safety measures.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson was criticised for his fears, despite his wife being pregnant

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson was criticised for his fears, despite his wife being pregnant

HIGH PROFILE STARS REFUSING TO PLAY

Chicago Bears

Eddie Goldman, DT

Green Bay Packers

Devin Funchess, WR

New England Patriots

Patrick Chung, S

Dont’a Hightower, LB

Brandon Bolden, RB

Marcus Cannon, OT

New York Giants

Nate Solder, LT

Philadelphia Eagles

Marquise Goodwin, WR

The league has yet to put forth a coherent plan for how they will approach going about handling the campaign, which has led to many players airing out their concerns on social media.

Seattle Seahawks star quarterback Russell Wilson wrote a poignant note using his Twitter platform: ‘I am concerned. My wife is pregnant. NFL training camp is about to start… And there’s still No Clear Plan on Player Health & Family Safety. We want to play football but we also want to protect our loved ones.’

Last week it emerged that the National Football League Players Association is seeking to bypass pre-season games completely, meaning the start of the NFL season – whenever it is to occur – will see players enter competition without the usual prior weeks of sharpeners.

The issue naturally reaches much further beyond purely health matters. Given the vast size of the sport, financial obstacles are now applying real pressure onto an already turbulent situation.

A deal was negotiated with the player’s union allowing them to opt out of the season if they did not feel safe. So far 27 players, including an eye-opening five from the New England Patriots have taken up that option, with plenty more expected to follow. 

A deadline to opt out has been set for August 4. 

The issues are similar to Major League Baseball’s pandemic battle. On the economic front, NFL owners want reimbursement funds for the potential of lost revenue. Whenever the season is given a green light, there is question whether further funds will be extracted from the players themselves in the form of cuts and deductions.

Houston Texans star J.J. Watt took it upon himself to personally list, via Twitter, more players’ concerns, including how Covid-19 results would impact future contracts.

‘In the interest of having everyone on the same page in terms of what we know and don’t know at this time, here are a few things I’ve learned being on four NFLPA calls in the last two weeks with hundreds of other players. Keep in mind our rookies are scheduled to report in 48 hrs,’ he wrote.

Baseball

Major League Baseball began its 2020 season last week, with the league trying to navigate its way through a 60-game schedule amid a global pandemic.

The sport is facing its first major outbreak, with a string of players across various teams testing positive in recent months.

This would be a world first situation, where numbers of Covid-19 sufferers spike within a sporting discipline and spread as a result of the fixture calendar.

Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals was among a large number of stars to test positive

Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals was among a large number of stars to test positive

Eleven Miami Marlins players have tested positive in recent days, with the outbreak causing games to be postponed in Miami and Philadelphia.

Fifteen total players have decided to sit out the 2020 season due to health concerns. The most recent of which being Rockies pitcher Tim Collins, who made clear his desire to sit out the season after learning of the Marlins outbreak.

So far four teams have returned positive tests within their camps, with the process still on going.

As of current time of writing, 15 players have confirmed they will not be taking part in the season, including Collin McHugh – pitcher of the Boston Red Sox and Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants.

A total of 11 MLB umpires so far have also stated they will not be offering their services due to health fears. 

An outbreak of the virus in the Miami Marlins camp has set the league on red alert

An outbreak of the virus in the Miami Marlins camp has set the league on red alert

Showing some degree of organisation, the MLB and the MLBPA have agreed on official Covid-19 guidelines, which include the allowance of high-risk players or players with high-risk families to opt-out on the 2020 season.

In the plan, high-risk players who decide to opt-out would receive both their full salary and service time for the season. 

Players who have high-risk family members may also decide to opt-out, but MLB would leave it up to teams to make the decision of whether or not they would receive salary or service time.

Major League Soccer (MLS)

Major League Soccer rather embarrassingly was forced to postpone the second match of the MLS is Back tournament after five Nashville players tested positive for coronavirus.

The tournament opener between Orlando City and Inter Miami on Wednesday was set to be followed by Nashville and Chicago Fire, though plans have now been shelved given the growing struggles of the United States.

The league have said two Nashville players tested positive last weekend and three more positive tests were confirmed on Monday night. 

The tournament opener between Orlando City and Inter Miami went ahead but already matches are now starting to be cancelled once more in MLS

The tournament opener between Orlando City and Inter Miami went ahead but already matches are now starting to be cancelled once more in MLS

The alarming news was further exacerbated after it was noted that four more players received inconclusive results and are requiring further testing. 

The postponement comes a day after FC Dallas were forced to withdraw from the tournament after 10 of their players tested positive, with outbreaks now emerging within the different camps.

It is understood that within the coming days many other teams are to signal their withdrawal from competition, as they battle to get virus cases under control. 

Australian sports

Alarm bells have started to ring across all sports in Australia, after border closures between states threaten to make inter-league competition all but impossible.

On Wednesday authorities in Queensland said they would shut the state’s border to arrivals from Sydney amid growing clusters of Covid-19 across the city, in order to stem the risk of transmission.

Over a dozen teams in top flight rugby league, soccer, Australian Rules football and rugby union reside in Sydney, and play a key role in the country’s elite level of sport.

Queensland had already banned travellers from Covid-19 hotspots, such as several suburbs of Sydney but this week state premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has said the entire city, with a population of five million, would be shut out from 1am local time (1500 GMT) on Sunday.

Queensland has already banned travellers from COVID-19 'hotspots' and testing is in place

Queensland has already banned travellers from COVID-19 ‘hotspots’ and testing is in place

National Rugby League (NRL) teams in Sydney were given special dispensation to travel to and from Queensland when the competition resumed in late-May, though NRL boss Peter V’landys said the league was seeking advice as to whether the policy had changed.

‘Logically, I can’t see how that would change with Sydney just being locked out,’ he told Australian Associated Press.

‘We still have the same rigorous protocols.

‘We’ve got an exemption unless they withdraw the exemption. And there is no reason to take it back.’ 

The top flight A-League football is also expected to be affected, with Queensland-based Brisbane Roar playing in Sydney twice in the next two weeks.