Timeline of how COVID-19 shut down the sports world
The stark reality of the world and its sports, both battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, is well known by now. Shutdowns, isolation, quarantine, stay-at-home orders, astonishing unemployment, and historic casualties have consumed the day for five months as of May 2020.
In December 2019, Chinese researchers identified a new virus. By January, the first related death had been reported, and cases had reached other nations including the United States. The World Health Organization declared a global health emergency.
Sports fans have witnessed a parallel unimaginable series of events since then, as international leagues, college championships, and Opening Days have fallen victim to suspensions and postponements. The ramifications of this novel coronavirus are neither the first time sports have been interrupted nor the first instance in which a pandemic has been the culprit.
But how exactly did we go from the Chiefs’ Feb. 2 Super Bowl LIV victory to the first virtual NFL draft on April 23? How did the sports shutdown progress from the Premier League prohibiting handshakes before games in early March to the absence of nearly all major worldwide leagues by April? Stacker dug through dozens of news sources, press releases, and sound bites to create the following timeline, from when European and American sports first suspended play to the first moments they announced optimistic resumption plans.
We begin in late February, when the first Italian soccer games paused and the government stepped in. And we transition to mid-March, when American basketball started to adjust on the fly—a chaotic 24 hours in which NCAA conference tournaments ended at halftime of noon games, and an NBA team doctor made a cinematic sprint from the locker room to the court seconds before tipoff to relay a positive test and cancel the game. But, as we hope with the current pandemic, this timeline ends on a good note, as several leagues have confirmed their restarts. Most recently, on June 4, the NBA finally announced its return when the Board of Governors approved a plan to resume at the end of July.
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Feb. 23, 2020: Italy’s Serie A suspends matches
Four Sunday Serie A matches were suspended as the virus spread in Northern Italy. Two matches were held as planned in Genoa and Rome.
Feb. 24, 2020: Italian government speaks up
Italian Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora suggested to Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte that, instead of postponing more games, the league continue with no fans. Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago called the closed-door concept ''problematic'' the day before.
Feb. 29, 2020: March Madness without fans?
Amid growing U.S. case counts, the National College Players Association released a statement regarding the NCAA men’s tournament and protecting student-athletes, calling for “a serious discussion about holding competitions without an audience present.”
[Pictured: The Virginia Cavaliers' Kyle Guy grabs a rebound against the Texas Tech Red Raiders during the 2019 NCAA Men's Final Four National Championship Game]
March 3, 2020: NBA says fist-bumps, not high-fives
According to a memo obtained by ESPN, the NBA and its Players Association—having consulted with the CDC—recommend fist-bumps instead of high-fives and to avoid objects and pens exchanged with fans for autographs. The Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler told reporters, "I don't think about any of that. I'm still going to be who I am. We're still going to be who we are."
[Pictured: Bill Walton (L) and Ted Robinson talk before broadcasting a first-round game of the 2016 Pac-12 Basketball Tournament between the UCLA Bruins and the USC Trojans]
March 4, 2020: Serie A officially moves behind closed doors
The Italian government made an official announcement that Serie A would continue behind closed doors for one month. They hoped to stop the spread as the country remained an epicenter of the outbreak.
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March 5, 2020: English Premier League bans handshakes
Part of the “traditional walk-out protocol” prior to each Premier League match, fair-play handshakes between players and officials are customary. The league issued a statement banning the gesture “for health reasons,” since the virus “can be transmitted on to the hands and passed on via a handshake.”
March 6, 2020: LeBron James makes shortsighted statement
As the worldwide case count eclipsed 100,000 and the U.S. death toll reached 16, the NBA prepped its players for games in empty arenas, according to a memo obtained by the Associated Press. Following the Lakers–Bucks game, LeBron James told reporters, “I ain’t playing if I ain’t got the fans in the crowd. That’s who I play for.”
March 8, 2020: Zero supporters at Juventus vs. Inter Milan
Following the government’s orders, Juventus and Inter Milan played the first non-Chinese game without fans. Juve’s win put them atop the Serie A table.
March 10, 2020: EPL match postponed; LeBron backtracks
Arsenal played Olympiacos in the Europa League on Feb. 27. After the Greek side’s owner tested positive, Arsenal instituted 14-day self-isolation guidelines, postponing their March 11 Premier League match with Manchester City. LeBron backtracked on his March 6 comments, telling reporters, "I had no idea there was a conversation going on behind closed doors about the particular virus. I would be very disappointed [with no fans] because that's [who] I play for."
[Pictured: Arsenal FC and Olympiacos FC's Europa League round-of-32 second leg at Emirates Stadium on Feb. 27, 2020]
2–4 p.m., March 11, 2020: ‘Pandemic’ official; teams, leagues exclude fans
Midday on March 11, the World Health Organization characterized COVID-19 as a “pandemic.” By 2 p.m., ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Golden State Warriors planned to play “foreseeable home games” without fans. An hour later, the first Champions League match without fans kicked off between Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund. Later that afternoon, the NCAA announced March Madness would restrict fans.
[Pictured: Fans of Paris Saint-Germain in front of the Parc des Princes for a Champions League match against Borussia Dortmund on March 11, 2020.]
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