Coronavirus: Here's what's happening in the sports world on Thursday

Stay up to date on the latest on how the coronavirus outbreak is affecting sports around the globe.

Italian sports executives make plea to postpone Games; 4 NBA teams report new cases

(Illustration by Steve Tzemis/CBC)

The latest on how the coronavirus outbreak is affecting sports around the globe:

Four NBA teams report new cases of COVID-19

The NBA has told its teams to close their training and practice facilities to all players and staff starting Friday, a development that came on a day where four more teams revealed they have had players or staff test positive for the coronavirus.

The Los Angeles Lakers said Thursday that two of their players tested positive, and Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics said he tested positive as well. Those revelations came after the Philadelphia 76ers said three members of their organization and the Denver Nuggets said someone within their franchise also tested positive.

The Lakers, 76ers and Nuggets all opted to not identify those who tested positive. The 76ers and Nuggets also did not reveal if the positive tests were linked to a player, coach or another level of staff.

Smart said he waited five days for his test results.

"I've been self-quarantined since the test, thank goodness," Smart said on Twitter. "COVID-19 must be taken with the highest level of seriousness. I know it's a .1 priority for our nations health experts, & we must get more testing ASAP."

Italian sports exec says IOC making 'big mistake'

With the coronavirus death toll now higher in Italy than anywhere else, two senior sports executives from the country issued emotional appeals Thursday to the International Olympic Committee to revise its stance over the Tokyo Games.

"I'm not against the Olympics. But saying that the Olympics will still go on is a big mistake in communication," Giovanni Petrucci, who served as president of the Italian Olympic Committee for 14 years, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"This pandemic is affecting the entire world," Petrucci added, his voice breaking up with despair. "I know about the billion-dollar contracts, the insurance deals. I know it all. But human life is worth more than all of those things." Petrucci's call came after regional Olympic officials rallied around the IOC's stance on opening the Tokyo Games as scheduled on July 24.

Major League Rugby ends season early

Major League Rugby has called off the remainder of the 2020 season, deciding it is better to call a halt to games now than keep going down an uncertain path due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

For MLR, it's a sudden end to the 12-team league's third season — one that started with new franchises in Atlanta, New England and Washington, D.C., and some-big time player additions in South Africa's Tendai (The Beast) Mtawarira and former All Blacks Ma'a Nonu and Rene Ranger.

"We believe it is ultimately the correct decision as we factored in health and safety risks for all parties," MLR commissioner George Killebrew said in a statement. "I want to ensure our fans that there is no doubt MLR will be back in 2021 and will emerge bigger and better than ever before."

Show goes on for Australian Football League

The Australian Football League — best known in the United States as an early staple of ESPN programming — eerily launched its season Thursday before an empty, 100,000-seat stadium.

It could be a potential template for other big-league sports around the globe to return to the fields and arenas quicker than we might've thought possible during the coronavirus outbreak.

Unlike most major sporting entities, Aussie rules football has decided to take the field for a reduced schedule of games — 17 games instead of the normal 22 — that are essentially serving as television programming, since no fans are to be allowed into the stadiums until the pandemic is under control.

From the AFL's perspective, the risk is worth it.

NFL receives 1st positive test

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton has tested positive for coronavirus.

The 56-year-old coach confirmed his diagnosis with ESPN on Thursday, becoming the first known case within the NFL's ranks.

"Sean Payton said he came forward with his coronavirus diagnosis because he wants all people to heed the warnings of government officials, stay inside, and behave responsibly," ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted.

Payton has compiled a 131-77 record in 13 seasons with the Saints. He led New Orleans to the franchise's only Super Bowl championship during the 2009 season.

MLB cancels international dates

Major League Baseball called off what was to have been its first two regular-season games in Mexico City, along with a three-game series in Puerto Rico because of the new coronavirus.

Arizona and San Diego were to have played on April 18 and 19 at Mexico City's Alfredo Harp Helu Stadium, a 20,000-capacity ballpark that opened in March 2019.

The New York Mets and Miami had been scheduled to play a three-game series at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan from April 28-30.

MLS still committed to playing full season

Major League Soccer has extended its season hiatus for the next eight weeks.

Like many leagues, the North American soccer circuit announced a 30-day suspension of play on March 12 due to the COVID0-19 outbreak.

The league said it is committed to playing the entire 2020 season and is evaluating all options, including pushing back the end of the season and playing the MLS Cup in December, as the league did prior to the 2019 season.

South African golfer tests positive

The first player under the PGA Tour umbrella has tested positive for the new coronavirus.

The tour says Victor Lange of South Africa was diagnosed with COVID-19 upon returning home to Johannesburg on March 9 from playing a PGA Tour Latinoamerica event in Mazatlan, Mexico. Lange received the diagnosis on Tuesday.

The tour says Lange has no symptoms and is expected to make a full recovery while under quarantine at home in South Africa.

Olympic flame handed over to Japanese delegation 

The Olympic flame has been handed over, by proxy, to Tokyo organizers in Athens.

The coronavirus outbreak forced a bare-bones version of the usual elaborate ceremony in the stadium where the first modern Olympics were staged in 1896.

The 80,000-seat marble stadium was empty apart from a handful of officials and participants.

The Japanese delegation was absent because of travel restrictions and Tokyo organizing committee head Yoshiro Mori delivered a speech by video from Japan. But his message was upbeat.

Mori says "I hereby pledge that on 24 July this flame will be lit at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo."

Weightlifting federation draws up new qualifying rules

The International Weightlifting Federation says it has drawn up a replacement set of qualifying rules and submitted them to the International Olympic Committee but it won't tell athletes or national federations about the changes until the IOC signs off on the plan.

The IWF says it has ruled out extending the qualifying period beyond April 30. That means any rescheduled continental championships won't count.

Euro soccer clubs have more time to get finances in order

UEFA is giving European soccer clubs extra time and leeway to comply with financial monitoring rules during the coronavirus outbreak.

UEFA says it has extended a March 31 deadline by one month for clubs to show they have no outstanding debts for taxes and transfer fees.

Swedish soccer aiming for May/June return

The Swedish soccer association says the start of the top professional leagues in the country have been postponed with the aim of playing again in late May or early June.

The decision comes a day after a request from clubs in Sweden's top two men's leagues to delay the start of the season until the beginning of June because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The season was due to start on the weekend of April 3-4.

Soccer in England shelved until at least end of April

Soccer in England will stay suspended until at least April 30 because of the coronavirus outbreak and the season could be finished in June.

The Football Association and Premier League say they have agreed to extend the suspension from April 4 to April 30. The FA board has waived a regulation which would normally oblige leagues to finish by June 1.

The FA, Premier League and English Football League say they are "united in their commitment" that the season should be resumed.

Further developments

  • F1 postpones three more races: Monaco, Dutch, Spanish Grand Prix 
  • Major League Rugby calls off remainder of 2020 season
  • Turkey suspends all soccer, basketball, volleyball leagues

With files from The Canadian Press and Reuters