Football under threat from Coronavirus: Newcastle bans shaking hands

Football under threat from coronavirus: Newcastle United bans players from shaking hands as string of Italian matches are held behind closed doors

  • Football, rugby, London Marathon and Grand National could all be under threat
  • Newcastle United has banned handshakes at training ground on doctor’s orders 
  • Teams in coronavirus-hit Italy are already playing matches in empty stadiums
  • Major events such as Euro 2020 and Tokyo 2020 Olympics could also change 

A Premier League team has banned players from shaking hands and matches could be played in empty stadiums as coronavirus threatens to disrupt British football for the rest of the season, it was revealed today.

Millions of supporters travel the length of the UK to follow their team but some are expected to wear masks at matches this weekend or choose may not to travel as the number of cases grew to 19 today – including six in the past 24 hours.

Newcastle United has a daily tradition where players and staff greet one another with a handshake every morning but manager Steve Bruce admitted today: ‘We’ve stopped that on the advice of the doctor’. 

And as Switzerland today banned all events involving more than 1,000 people, Mr Bruce said: ‘We’re glued to the TV and let us hope it doesn’t get any worse in this country.’

Today Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted he is ‘worried’ about being drawn against Inter Milan in the Europa League – after the northern Italian team found itself on the edge of the country’s coronavirus crisis zone. 

Inter played their match in an empty San Siro stadium last night to avoid up to 80,000 supporters turning up and spreading the illness that has claimed 2,550 lives worldwide so far – including 17 in Italy in a week. 

Public Health England has now admitted that if the country loses its grip on the virus the public could be banned from sporting events for two months, threatening football fixtures and Six Nations rugby matches this month and the London Marathon and Grand National in April. 

The Euro 2020 football tournament, which starts in Rome, could also be in doubt  while British cycling stars Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish are quarantined at their Berlin hotel and are being tested after two Italians staff fell ill. Further ahead the Tokyo 2020 Olympics could be postponed or moved.

In a picture of what could be to come in Britain, Inter Milan’s San Siro stadium was empty for the team’s Europa League match as sporting fixtures could be played behind closed doors or even cancelled to avoid spreading illness

All fans were banned from the iconic stadium shared by AC and Inter Milan for the match last night (pictured)

Newcastle United boss Steve Bruce shakes hands with Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta – but Bruce has admitted the ritual is banned at the training ground because of coronavirus

What is this virus?

The SARS-CoV-2 virus has been identified as a new type of coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a large family of pathogens, most of which cause mild lung infections such as the common cold.

But coronaviruses can also be deadly. SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, is caused by a coronavirus and killed hundreds of people in China and Hong Kong in the early 2000s.

Can the Wuhan coronavirus kill?

Yes – almost 3,000 people have so far died after testing positive for the virus.

What are the symptoms?

The infection which the virus causes has been named COVID-19. Some people who catch it may not have any symptoms at all, or only very mild ones like a sore throat or a headache.

Others may suffer from a fever, cough or trouble breathing. 

And a small proportion of patients will go on to develop severe infection which can damage the lungs or cause pneumonia, a life-threatening condition which causes swelling and fluid build-up in the lungs.

How is it detected?

The virus’s genetic sequencing was released by scientists in China and countries around the world have used this to create lab tests, which must be carried out to confirm an infection.

Delays to these tests, to test results and to people getting to hospitals in China, mean the number of confirmed cases is expected to be just a fraction of the true scale of the outbreak.  

How did it start and spread?

The first cases identified were among people connected to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan.

Cases have since been identified around China and are known to have spread from person to person.

What are countries doing to prevent the spread?

Countries all over the world have banned foreign travellers from crossing their borders if they have been to China within the past two weeks. Many airlines have cancelled or drastically reduced flights to and from mainland China.

Is it similar to anything we’ve ever seen before?

Experts have compared it to the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The epidemic started in southern China and killed more than 700 people in mainland China, Hong Kong and elsewhere.


Switzerland has today banned all events involving more than 1,000 people in a drastic bid to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The Swiss government announced the emergency measure today and said it will last until at least March 15.

Officials say the ban on ‘public and private events’ is intended to ‘prevent or delay the spread of the disease in Switzerland, thus reducing its momentum’.

Switzerland has already confirmed eight cases and officials expect the outbreak to get worse because of the crisis over the border in northern Italy.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has revealed that a ban on public gatherings including sporting events could be needed if coronavirus cases continue to escalate in Britain, which now has 19 confirmed cases including six in the past 24 hours.

Premier League and FA Cup matches are certain to be under threat or played behind closed doors if the situation gets worse.

The London Marathon and the Grand National in April could also be at risk because of the large number of spectators  

Further ahead this summer’s Euro 2020 tournament, which is being played in cities across the continent including London, Glasgow and Rome – the capital of coronavirus-hit Italy – is certain to be under review.

The tournament has not yet been affected but UEFA is ‘monitoring’ the coronavirus situation.

Michele Uva, a member of the UEFA executive committee, told Italian broadcaster RAI: ‘We are at the waiting stage. We are monitoring country by country, and football must follow the orders of the individual countries. The sporting path will only be closed if the situation gets worse.’  

The upcoming Six Nations match between Ireland and Italy has already been postponed to prevent fans bringing it to the Emerald Isle.

The rugby union tie, due to be held in Dublin on March 7, became the largest sporting casualty in Europe since the outbreak, with tens of thousands of fans expecting to descend on the Irish capital forced to cancel or change plans.

England are due to play Italy in the Six Nations on March 14 in Rome, which is now also in doubt.

Asked about the proposition of the tie being postponed yesterday, health secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘Our goal is to minimise social disruption, of which this is an important part for any rugby fan, subject to keeping the public safe.’

The postponement has raised concerns about the cancellation of other major events in upcoming months, including England’s football friendly against Italy at Wembley on March 27 and even the Olympic Games, due to be held in Tokyo later this year.

The first Euro 2020 fixture is set to take place in Rome on June 12, raising fears that it could also be called off if the virus continues to spread across Italy.

The Chinese Grand Prix, originally scheduled for April 19, has already been postponed, with Formula One races in Australia, Bahrain and Vietnam are now at risk of cancellation.

The Irish Rugby Football Union [IRFU] announced the decision to suspend next month’s game against Italy as the number of new infections in the country surged to 322, including 11 confirmed deaths.

A women’s Six Nations tie scheduled for the following day has also been postponed.

The decision came after Irish health minister Simon Harris met with the IRFU  on Wednesday.

The body was told that the games should not proceed ‘in the interests of public health.’

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer expressed his concern at playing in Italy during the coronavirus outbreak

Ticketholders have been told they will be able to attend a rescheduled game or they will be entitled to a refund.

Countries affected by the coronavirus outbreak or poised to hold events which may welcome fans from affected countries overseas are now braced for sporting cancellations.

Earlier this week, Dick Pound, of the International Olympic Committee, suggested that the Olympics, set to begin on July 24, could be cancelled.

He said there should be a window of a minimum two months to decide whether they would be called off, meaning a decision could be put off until May.

However Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga (corr) countered his claims, and said there are currently no plans to cancel or postpone the games.

Yesterday the FA said it currently had no plans to postpone England’s warm-up friendly against Italy next month, but the body was continuing to monitor government advice.

The sporting world has already been rocked by the rapid coronavirus outbreak.

This weekend, five matches in the Italian football top division – Serie A – will be played behind closed doors, including a tie between Juventus and Inter Milan.

Yesterday, the world Short Track Speed Skating Championships, due to take place in Seoul, South Korea from March 13 to 15, were also cancelled. 



In doubt 

The scale of the outbreak in Japan saw senior International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound describe the disease as ‘the new war’ threatening Tokyo 2020 and he warned the Games may have to be cancelled if the virus was still around by May.

Olympic organisers told athletes to train as normal with no decision on cancellation

The Japanese government later insisted Pound’s comments were not the IOC’s official stance but there remains doubts over whether the summer showcase can still go ahead with health concerns.

Athletes have been told to keep training and the plan remains to hold the Games in Japan as planned but training for around 80,000 volunteers has been delayed for at least two months- it was due to begin on February 22.



World Athletics Indoor Championships (March 13-15 in Nanjing) is off until 2021.

The World Athletics Indoor Championships in Nanjing, China, has been postponed due to concerns over the danger of the coronavirus and its ability to spread

North Korea cancelled the Pyongyang Marathon scheduled for April after imposing a border lockdown due to the level of outbreak in South Korea.

The Seoul Marathon is cancelled in a bid to protect runners following the mass outbreak in South Korea.

In doubt

A mixed relay Olympic triathlon qualification event scheduled for Chengdu, China in May is moved to Valencia, pending an outbreak in Spain.



German Open (March 3-8), Vietnam Open (March 24-29) and Polish Open (March 26-29), all Olympic qualifying events, are cancelled due to ‘strict health protection’.



Olympic boxing qualifiers to be staged in Wuhan were cancelled by the International Olympic Committee, and now are relocated to occur in Amman from March 3-11

The IBF title fight between Daniele Scardina and Andrew Francillette in Milan on February 28 was postponed by Matchroom due to restrictions in Italy following the outbreak.

The Japanese boxing commission cancelled all fight cards scheduled for March on government advice to suspend all pending sporting fixtures. They will not be rescheduled.



All domestic fixtures at all levels are postponed by the Chinese Football Association as the season is pushed back due to the scale of the outbreak in China.

Asian Champions League matches involving Guangzhou Evergrande, Shanghai Shenhua and Shanghai SIPG are postponed until April.

The start of the Korean K-League season is postponed. The four teams in the AFC Champions League playing their matches behind closed doors.

Ludogorets players were taking no chances after the coronavirus outbreak in Italy

Japan’s J-League postponed all domestic games until the middle of March.

Inter Milan’s game against Sampdoria was one of four Serie A games cancelled last weekend due to affected regions in Italy leading to advice from the prime minister to call off sporting events.


The home leg of the Chinese women’s national team’s Olympic qualification play-off against South Korea set for March is switched to Sydney. The squad are held in quarantine upon their arrival in Australia for January’s qualifying group stage due to fears of virus carriers.

Inter Milan’s Europa League match against Ludogorets on February 27 will be played behind closed doors. Only TV rights-holders are allowed to attend as media as the club look to secure the San Siro. Ludogorets players arrived in Italy wearing face masks.

Serie A announced five matches on February 28-March 1 will be played behind closed doors, including Juventus v Inter Milan in Turin, a huge match between title rivals. 

Newcastle United have banned their players from shaking hands with each other amid coronavirus fears. 

In doubt

England’s friendly against Italy at Wembley in March is now in doubt as the FA holds crisis talks following the outbreak in northern Italy.

Israel has warned citizens to avoid all international travel, which raises questions whether supporters or players will travel to Scotland for their Euro 2020 play-off match on March 26. 

Growing concerns that some matches at Euro 2020 could be called off if the coronavirus outbreak gets worse between now and the summer. The tournament is set to be multi-city. UEFA admit they are in a ‘waiting stage’ and must follow the orders of the individual countries involved. 



The Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai on April 19 is postponed with no decision over whether it will be reinserted into the 2020 calendar for later in the season.

The Chinese GP was first to be cancelled and other races could yet follow that lead

In doubt

The Australian Grand Prix will go ahead despite an emergency response plan being enacted across the country to deal with the virus. The chief executive of the tourism council says that Victoria cannot afford for the event to be cancelled.

The Bahrain Grand Prix is still planned to go ahead despite a number of flights from Dubai and the UAE into the country being cancelled this week due to coronavirus fears.

There are growing concerns over whether the inaugural Vietnam Grand Prix (scheduled to take place in Hanoi on April 5) will go ahead.



The Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific golf championship, slated to take place from February 12-15 in Thailand, was postponed and has been rescheduled for October.

The Honda LPGA Thailand event in Pattaya, Thailand scheduled for February 20-23 along with the HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore, scheduled to start on February 27, were both postponed

The PGA Tour Series-China postponed two qualifying tournaments and delayed the start of its 2020 campaign by two months, cutting the number of regular season events down from 14 to 10.

The decision was made to cancel the LPGA Blue Bay tournament in China, with the event at Hainan Island (due to start on March 5) seen as dangerous to players’ health

The European Tour postponed the Maybank Championship (April 16-19 in Kuala Lumpur) and Volvo China Open (April 23-26 in Shenzhen).


Lorenzo Gagli and Edoardo Molinari were withdrawn from the Oman Open on medical grounds after Gagli showed symptoms of the virus. He shared a hotel room with Molinari and he was told to self-isolate. They were later reinstated to the tournament after testing negative for the virus.



The Japan Racing Association revealed that ‘government-sanctioned races’ will go behind closed doors.

In doubt

Cheltenham festival is in doubt as organisers set up a steering group to consider the danger posed by the virus, just 13 days prior to the prestigious Gold Cup event

The Cheltenham Festival is set to go ahead despite travel disruption caused by the virus



Scotland Women’s Six Nations match with Italy on February 23 is postponed due to an outbreak in the Milan area.

Ireland’s Six Nations meeting with Italy on March 7 is postponed.

Ospreys and Ulster’s Pro14 trips to play in Italy on February 29 are postponed. Ospreys were due to play Zebre in Parma with Treviso the venue for Ulster’s game against Benetton.

Ireland’s Six Nations encounter with Italy on March 7 has been postponed

The Italian Rugby Federation suspended its National Championship and youth games for February 28-March 1.

Hong Kong Rugby Sevens is postponed, which is a blow to Olympic preparations for Team GB.  

In doubt

Scottish rugby announced preparations ‘continue as normal’ as they discuss with French rugby whether to proceed with their Six Nations match on March 8 following a second coronavirus death in France.

All of Italy’s remaining Six Nations fixtures – they are due to host England in their final game on March 14 – are in serious doubt given the scale of the outbreak in Italy



The final of an ATP Challenger event in Bergamo, Italy, between Enzo Couacaud and Illya Marchenko of Ukraine is cancelled. Both players received ranking points and prize money for getting to the final. They were denied the opportunity to play behind closed doors.

China forfeited a Davis Cup tie because the men’s team were unable to travel to Romania for the March 6-7 playoff.

WTA event Xi’an Open (set for April 13-19) is cancelled due to fears over player safety. WTA announced they are assessing their schedule with a number of events set for China in the second half of the season.


Japan’s home Davis Cup tie against Ecuador next week is now set to be played behind closed doors.

In doubt

WTA event Kunming Open is considered for cancellation after Xi’an Open was called off. It is due to start on April 27.



Cycling’s United Arab Emirates Tour has been cancelled with Chris Froome tested for coronavirus and Mark Cavendish put into lockdown in his hotel room. 

South Korean baseball league cancelled all 50 pre-season game which were slated to take place from March 14-24. It is the first time since the leagues inception in 1982 that an entire set of exhibition matches are off. 

The first-stage draw for the Table Tennis World Championships, scheduled for South Korea from March 22-29, is postponed.

A beach volleyball tournament, due to be held in Yangzhou from April 22-26, is postponed until after the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

World Short track speed skating championship in Seoul is cancelled.

All 72 pre-season baseball games in Japan are to take place behind closed doors


The Japanese professional baseball league made the decision to play their 72 pre-season games behind closed doors until March 15. Baseball is among the most popular sports in Japan.  

In doubt

The South Korean baseball league regular season is in doubt ahead of the first round of matches on March 28. An emergency meeting has been called.   

Doubts remain as the Asian weightlifting championships, scheduled for March, are relocated from Kazakhstan to neighbouring Uzbekistan. They could still be postponed.

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