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Dalton Myers | Coronavirus and its impact on sports

Published:Saturday | February 1, 2020 | 12:00 AM
Students line up to sanitise their hands to avoid the contact of coronavirus before their morning class at a high school in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020.
World Athletics (formerly IAAF) president Sebastian Coe. World Athletics recently postponed the World Indoor Championships, which was set for Nanjing, China in March because of concerns around the coronavirus.

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Wuhan, Hubei Province, in the People’s Republic of China, has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO) and continues to dominate the headlines as it spreads both in and outside of mainland China.

So far, there are several reported cases in Wuhan and other Chinese cities, while other countries outside China have also identified cases. Consequently, there are travel restrictions to and out of China, so I can understand and appreciate the decision by World Athletics to postpone the 2020 Indoor Championship slated for Nanjing, China, in March.

I support this decision by World Athletics as the most important thing is saving lives and containing and combating the spread of the virus. World Athletics has made a bold move because these events are usually planned way in advance, and in many cases world governing bodies are usually hesitant to make adjustments to marquee events. It’s now left to be seen what other events will be relocated, postponed or cancelled for the remainder of the calendar year, or at least certainly in this first quarter.


Due to country legislations and other contractual arrangements, it is usually not the easiest thing to cancel events, and oftentimes that decision is made at the last moment after several risk assessments. In this case, World Athletics went for a postponement to 2021 rather than a cancellation. I am sure this is to give them some room to negotiate with suppliers, contractors, governments, etc. A cancellation is a bigger financial risk with potential legal ramifications.

World Athletics and its partners may have other challenges to examine as we don’t know how soon this coronavirus will be under control, and there are other events scheduled for the area over the next four months. The Diamond League Series is set to begin in Shanghai in May. There is also the World Continental Tour in Nanjing with concerns mounting about the tour in Japan.

Globally, other sporting events have started making adjustments while some are “monitoring the situation” with the WHO.

The Chinese Football Association has withdrawn from hosting the Women’s Olympic Qualifiers, which has now been moved to Sydney, Australia. An Olympic Boxing qualifier has also been moved from Wuhan, while the International Tennis Federation has also moved their regional Fed Cup qualifier out of China to Kazakhstan. With these and other relocations, travel restrictions may now prove problematic for athletes in China who could possibly qualify for the Olympic Games.

Interestingly, World Athletics did not move the Indoor Championships to another city, arguing “concerns still exist regarding the spread of the virus outside China”.


It will be interesting to see what the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee will do for the Summer Games, but it’s unlikely Tokyo 2020 will be cancelled or postponed unless there is absolutely no other alternative. While this strain of the coronavirus is new and is doing far more damage than previous virus/disease outbreaks, we have seen several outbreaks threaten the games or just global sports before, but they have gone ahead.

In 2016, the Zika virus caused concerns for sporting fraternity with several persons raising questions about the games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Now, don’t get me wrong, Zika and coronavirus are in two different levels of outbreak, and there’s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus and how quickly it is spreading. However, my main point is that the modern Olympics has seen several categories of health and political storms and continued despite boycotts, hostage situations and threats of wars.

Locally, I hope we can get clear direction from health authorities on how we will deal with this if it should ever reach our shores.

Local sport governing bodies should also start meeting with Ministry of Health officials to discuss any possible team travel. We have to be proactive as the next few months have a packed schedule of Olympic qualifiers, as well as sporting and wellness conferences and workshops in Europe and Asia, and several of our athletes also live and train outside of the country. The next few weeks are going to be very interesting for sport globally in dealing with the impact of the coronavirus.

Dalton Myers is a sports consultant and host of The Drive Phase Podcast. Email feedback to or tweet @daltonsmyers.