In a world without sports, few are still braving the COVID-19 storm

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By: New York Times |

Published: March 17, 2020 10:54:16 pm


FC Sochi beat FC Krasnodar through goals by Cristhian Noboa and Andrey Mostovoy on Sunday. (Source: RPL)

by Victor Mather

In Russian soccer, it was Sochi 2, Krasnodar 0. In Turkish basketball, Fenerbahce 84, Tofas 75. In women’s Australian rules football, Greater Western Sydney 26, Adelaide 21.

These scores, which would ordinarily be buried in the blizzard of worldwide sporting results, stood out this weekend. Not because the games were particularly remarkable, but because they were played at all.

All of the major U.S. leagues, plus golf, tennis and other sports, have shut down because of the spread of the coronavirus. The top soccer and rugby leagues did the same in Europe. Just about all sports in China and Japan have been idle for weeks.

The soccer slate for Sunday, normally chock-full of games from nations big and small, consisted of matches in only a handful of regions: South and Central America, Africa, Australia, Russia and some former Soviet nations, and some Asian countries that were not at the epicenter of the pandemic, like Vietnam and Singapore.

The rest of the world was virtually sports free. Here is a look at the games and events that are still bring held. For now.

SPORTS WITH ANIMALS

With its built-in social distancing, the Iditarod trail sled dog race continued in Alaska. (Source: AP Photo)

While human sports have been shutting down, horse racing has proved to be surprisingly resilient, even in places like France and Britain, which are all but closed down.

In New York, restaurants and schools were ordered closed, yet horses raced at Aqueduct this weekend, financed by bettors at home and at simulcast locations. There was also racing at Gulfstream in South Florida and Santa Anita in California. There were no fans, but jockeys, trainers and, of course, horses were all busy with their usual jobs.

“Very strange,” jockey John Velazquez told The Miami Herald of racing at a nearly empty Gulfstream Park. “It’s a little bit sad.”

Cheltenham in England ran its prestigious horse racing festival last week, and 250,000 fans showed up over the four days, down just 5% from last year. Spectators pressed eagerly against one another to cheer Al Boum Photo to a repeat victory in the Gold Cup, and Princess Anne and other members of the royal family were among them. With the conclusion of the festival, racing in Britain will now take place without fans at least through the end of March.

And the mushers kept mushing at the Iditarod trail sled dog race in Alaska, which neared its finish. Because the race is nearly 1,000 miles, “they do a very good job of social distancing,” Heidi Hedberg, Alaska’s public health director, told The Washington Post.

Dener Barbosa of Brazil won a Professional Bull Riders event in Duluth, Georgia, held without spectators over the weekend.

COMBAT SPORTS

Charles Oliveira submitting Kevin Lee in UFC Brazil main event. (Source: UFC)

Ultimate Fighting Championship held its scheduled mixed martial arts card in Brasília on Saturday night without fans in attendance. The fights were shifted from the subscription service ESPN+ to ESPN, which understandably is eager for live programming.

A UFC event in London next week will have to change venues, the organization’s president, Dana White, said, but he insisted that fights would go on. Fights in Ohio and Oregon in coming weeks were initially set to be moved to a television studio in Las Vegas until the Nevada Athletic Commission temporarily halted bouts. The search for a location for these cards is continuing.

The National Collegiate Wrestling Association held its championships in Allen, Texas, for schools not part of the NCAA. More than 600 athletes participated.

“I think a lot of this is driven by fear,” the executive director, Jim Giunta, told The Dallas Morning News. “We’re going to do everything in our power to create an environment that’s more than safe for our athletes. But after we do everything we can do, we’re going to operate on faith rather than fear.”

BAR SPORTS

Peter Wright in action in Premier League Darts at M&S Arena, Liverpool on Friday. (Source: Twitter)

Premier League Darts took place last week in Liverpool as scheduled with the usual rowdy crowd enjoying their pints at communal tables. The next round was set for Newcastle on Thursday, but because of crowd gathering rules in the Netherlands, the final in Rotterdam was postponed until the fall.

In snooker, Judd Trump won the Gibraltar Open on Sunday. Spectators were limited to 100, and no referees were used. The Tour Championship in Wales was still on, beginning Tuesday, and the world championship was to follow.

Liga MX in Mexico was one of the most prominent soccer leagues in the world that was still in action, and played its games through Sunday. But the league announced a suspension of its season immediately afterward.

An Olympic boxing qualifying event in London started Saturday, with more than 300 fighters but no fans

“All of the teams have been told to adopt regular hand-washing,” organizers said.

Then, on Monday, organizers changed their minds and suspended the event until May or June.

On Monday, the Penn Relays, starting April 23, were canceled. Both Pakistan and South Africa suspended their soccer seasons. The dominoes continued to fall.

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