Bahrain Grand Prix, world soccer among events hit by virus

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Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain steers his car during the Formula One pre-season testing session at the Barcelona Catalunya racetrack in Montmelo, outside Barcelona, Spain, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Joan Monfort)

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SAKHIR, Bahrain (AP) — Formula One’s Bahrain Grand Prix has been closed to spectators due to the global virus outbreak, but won’t be postponed like the Chinese round of the championship.

The Bahraini organizers’ decision comes as the wider sporting world battles turmoil caused by the new coronavirus. Soccer, golf, skiing, marathons and Olympic qualifying tournaments have all been disrupted.

Japan’s Spring Grand Sumo Tournament started Sunday without spectators, and with wrestlers arriving in face masks. One of Italian soccer’s biggest games — the potential title decider between Juventus and Inter Milan — will be played Sunday in an empty stadium.

Bahraini organizers said having crowds at the March 22 race would have undermined “aggressive social distancing measures” used to prevent the spread of the virus, which causes the COVID-19 disease. Discouraging people from gathering in large crowds can prevent the virus from spreading.

“Given the continued spread of COVID-19 globally, convening a major sporting event, which is open to the public and allows thousands of international travellers and local fans to interact in close proximity would not be the right thing to do at the present time,” organizers said in a statement.

The F1 season is set to begin with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 15. China was scheduled to hold the fourth race of the season on April 19, but that was postponeddue to the virus outbreak and no new date has been set.

Serie A soccer games resumed Sunday in empty stadiums amid strict anti-virus measures in Italy — despite the sports minister calling for teams not to play — while a French league game between Strasbourg and Paris Saint-Germain was postponed from its scheduled date Saturday.

The CEO of the German Football League, which oversees the top two divisions, called on clubs to work with local authorities but said it was “without question” that all remaining games must be played this season with no delays beyond mid-May.

“That is only way for the clubs and the (league) to have security of planning for the upcoming period of competition despite difficult circumstances,” Christian Seifert said in a statement.

That followed a call from German Health Minister Jens Spahn for organizers to reconsider hosting events due to attract more than 1,000 people, including sports competitions.

A total of 550 fans of Bundesliga club Borussia Mönchengladbach from a virus-affected area took advantage of an offer to refund their tickets for Saturday’s game against Borussia Dortmund, the dpa news agency reported.

The offer was open to fans from nearby Heinsberg, which has a cluster of virus cases, and offered them free tickets for a European game next season.

The Alpine skiing World Cup Finals, Italian cycling races and the women’s ice hockey world championships have all been canceled.

In Greece, all sports events will take place without spectators for two weeks, the country’s Health Ministry announced.

British sporting events could soon also be held without spectators, with a meeting between sports bodies, broadcasters and the government set to take place on Monday.

When events do go ahead, fans and athletes are taking new precautions. Soccer players in the English Premier League have scrapped their traditional pre-game handshakes, while leading cricket players have used fist-bump greetings and been issued with hand sanitizer. Face masks are an increasingly common sight in crowds around the world.

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