This is the first time since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics that the torch-lighting ceremony will be held without spectators lining on the slopes of the ancient stadium in the tiny Peloponnesian town of Olympia, where the games originated.
“Only 100 invited and accredited guests” will be allowed to attend the lighting of the Olympic flame, the Greek Olympic Committee said in a statement, according to Reuters. “The dress rehearsal on March 11 will be closed to spectators and media.”
After the torch lighting, there will be a seven-day relay, ending with a handover ceremony March 19 in Greece. The Japanese leg of the torch relay will begin March 26 in Fukushima as it begins a four-month journey through Japan’s 47 prefectures.
As with the Olympics, the decision about Indian Wells came late, with players already arriving for a tournament considered just a tier below tennis’s four Grand Slam events. Qualifying matches were to begin Monday, with the women’s main draw starting Wednesday and the men’s Thursday.
“We are here and still deciding what’s next. So sad for all that is happening around the world with this situation,” Rafael Nadal, the world’s second-ranked player, tweeted. “Hopefully soon solutions from the authorities. Stay all well and safe.”
The event, which normally attracts as many as 450,000 fans, was set to feature 19 of the top 20 men’s players, including Nadal, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, and defending champion Dominic Thiem. (Roger Federer was already out because of knee surgery.) The women’s draw was equally star-studded, including the likes of Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff.
“We are very disappointed that the tournament will not take place, but the health and safety of the local community, fans, players, volunteers, sponsors, employees, vendors, and everyone involved with the event is of paramount importance,” tournament director Tommy Haas said in a statement released Sunday evening. “We are prepared to hold the tournament on another date and will explore options.”
On Monday, Santa Clara (Calif.) County officials canceled all mass gatherings in their jurisdiction through the end of March, following the county’s first confirmed death from covid-19. That would appear to have major implications for the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, who last week declined a recommendation from the county to cancel or postpone upcoming games.
The team, which has since hosted games against the Minnesota Wild, Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche, said in a statement that it would “adhere to the mandated guidelines” but did not specify how. The Sharks don’t have another home game scheduled until March 19, and among their options are: postponing that and the other two home dates they have left this month; playing those games at their home arena but in front of less than a thousand fans and possibly none at all; or playing the games on the scheduled dates but at a site or multiple sites outside the county.
Promising to “provide an update in the coming days,” the Sharks said Monday, “We appreciate the understanding and patience of our fans, guests and partners during this unprecedented time.”
Italy has been hard-hit by the outbreak, and recent soccer games have been taking place in empty stadiums, with Juventus players including Cristiano Ronaldo applauding the barren bleachers as the team prepared to play Inter Milan on Sunday in a highly anticipated match. Italian officials went on to take a massive step beyond that Monday by banning all sports events throughout the country until April 3. That includes Serie A, the soccer-mad country’s top league, which hasn’t seen such a halt in play since World War II.
Before the tennis tournament was called off, Riverside County (Calif.) Health Officer Cameron Kaiser declared a state of emergency after the first locally acquired case of the illness was discovered in Coachella Valley, in which Indian Wells is located.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) had declared a state of emergency for his entire state Wednesday, saying that California was “deploying every level of government to help identify cases and slow the spread of this coronavirus.”
BNP Paribas organizers cited a professor of medicine and biomedical engineering at the University of Southern California, David Agus, who said, “There is too great a risk, at this time, to the public health of the Riverside County area in holding a large gathering of this size.”
“It is not in the public interest of fans, players and neighboring areas for this tournament to proceed,” Agus added. “We all have to join together to protect the community from the coronavirus outbreak.”
As news of the tournament’s cancellation spread among current and former players, several expressed shock. “What the [expletive]?!?!?!” Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens tweeted, sharing a tweet with the announcement from BNP Paribas organizers.
“This is obviously disappointing but health is always a priority,” tweeted Russia’s Alla Kudryavtseva. “Hope to be back at Indian Wells whenever the community recovers from this threat. Stay healthy guys! Wash your hands!”
Britain’s Jamie Murray opined that it “doesn’t bode well” for the ATP Tour if an event such as Indian Wells was canceled “for 1 confirmed case in Coachella Valley.” He noted that Broward County, home of the upcoming Miami Open, has “more confirmed cases,” and wondered what might become of the French Open and Wimbledon.
Organizers for the Miami Open, set to begin March 23, said Friday (via the Sun-Sentinel) that they intended to proceed as planned, at least for the time being.
“Safety remains a top priority,” a tournament spokesman said, “and we are monitoring the covid-19 situation closely with local, state and federal officials and health organizations in the lead up to the tournament.”
Elsewhere in Miami, the popular Ultra Music Festival, scheduled for March 20-22, was postponed until 2021. The immediate future of the well-attended Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, scheduled for April 10-19, remained uncertain, according to Kaiser.
“Some events that are lower risk may still be able to take place with appropriate precautions for attendees and the venue,” the Riverside County health official said Sunday. “Some, however, may not. We’ll be looking at these on a case-to-case basis, judging the risk and figuring out what we can do about it.”
Riverside County is also home to Rancho Mirage, which is set to host the LPGA Tour’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, April 2-5 at Mission Hills Country Club. The LPGA lost three tournaments in Asia earlier this year to coronavirus-related precautions, but the tour said last week that it has no plans to cancel its events in the United States, according to the Arizona Republic.
In a statement Sunday, WTA CEO Steve Simon said, “First and foremost, there isn’t anything more important than protecting the health of our players, staff, volunteers and fans who attend our events. Based on the medical advice received on March 8, it is with regret that the 2020 BNP Paribas Open will not be held as scheduled this March.”
“The WTA empathizes with those affected by the coronavirus in this region and around the world,” he continued. “We are disappointed our fans will not be able to come out and watch the event, and our players are also disappointed to not compete over the next two weeks, along with the sponsors who support the event. However, we understand the decision which has been made in the interest of public health and safety which is the top priority at this time.”