China halts domestic soccer to contain coronavirus spread

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - The Chinese Football Association (CFA) said on Thursday it is postponing all domestic games due to the rapidly spreading coronavirus epidemic as the total number of confirmed deaths from the newly identified pathogen in the country rose to 170.

A man wearing a mask is pictured inside a shop at the Nanjing Road, in Shanghai, China January 29, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song

Chinese health authorities said there were 7,711 confirmed cases of infection as of the end of Wednesday, mostly in Hubei province, while infections have been reported in at least 15 other countries.

The virus has had a major impact on China’s sporting landscape, with several events canceled and the country’s Olympic women’s soccer team quarantined in Australia.

On Thursday, the CFA said in a statement on its website that football games at all levels would be postponed in order to help control the virus spread.

“The Chinese Football Association will continue to maintain close communication with national authorities ... and make reasonable adjustments to the organization, schedule and scale of matches where necessary,” it said.

The Chinese women’s soccer team had traveled to Australia to play in an Olympic qualifying tournament but will remain quarantined in a Brisbane hotel.

Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said the players were healthy and being checked every day.

Several members of the local Chinese communities have canceled Lunar New Year celebrations following the outbreak.

“I thank the Chinese community for their proactive response for how they’ve dealt with this,” Young said.

The Olympic tournament had originally been scheduled to be held in Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated, before it was switched to Nanjing and later transferred out of China to Sydney.

The Chinese team, who were scheduled to play their first match on Feb. 3, arrived in Brisbane on Wednesday and have been told to remain in their hotel rooms until Feb. 5.

Late on Wednesday, the World Athletics Indoor Championships, scheduled to take place in Nanjing in March, was postponed until 2021 over fears related to the coronavirus outbreak, the sport’s governing body said.

The governing bodies of several other sports, including skiing, badminton, tennis and basketball, have also been forced into rearranging events, weighing possible changes or monitoring the implications of the outbreak.

Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; Additional reporting by Reporting by Samuel Shen and David Stanway; Editing by Shri Navaratnam/Peter Rutherford