China announced on Thursday the suspension of all domestic football and postponed indefinitely the top-flight Chinese Super League (CSL) season in response to the deadly viral outbreak sweeping the country.
The CSL 2020 campaign had been due to kick off on February 22, but was shelved along with “all types of football matches” in order to “carry out prevention and control of the pneumonia epidemic,” said a Chinese Football Association statement.
The announcement comes just a few hours after the World Indoor Athletics Championships, scheduled to take place in the Chinese city of Nanjing in March, were postponed until 2021 after advice from the World Health Organisation.
Football is fanatically followed in the world’s most populous nation with cash-rich clubs importing expensive foreign signings such as Brazilians Hulk and Oscar, and Argentina’s Carlos Tevez in recent years.
It becomes the latest sport to be hit by the virus which by Thursday had seen more than 7,700 cases confirmed in China with at least 170 fatalities.
The virus has spread from the epicentre of Wuhan to more that 15 countries, with about 60 cases in Asia, Europe, North America and, most recently, the Middle East.
On Wednesday, World Cup skiing races, the first test events for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, were cancelled because of the outbreak.
The men’s downhill and super-G races were scheduled for February 15 and February 16 in Yanqing, 70 kilometres (45 miles) northwest of Beijing.
– World Cup qualifying –
In Australia, China’s women’s football team has been quarantined in a Brisbane hotel after arriving for an Olympic qualifying competition which had been originally due to take place in Wuhan.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on Wednesday ordered all four Chinese clubs’ first three fixtures in the continent’s Champions League’s group stage in February and March to be played away from home.
The AFC said the decision was a “precautionary measure to ensure the safety and well-being of all participating players and teams”
The CFA said any decision on postponing or moving international fixtures would be made at a later date.
China is due to host the Maldives in a World Cup qualifying match on March 26 and travel to Guam for another qualifier on March 31.
“The CFA will continue to maintain close communication with national authorities, and decide each event’s timing separately based on the actual development of the epidemic situation in each locality,” the statement said.
Earlier this month the International Tennis Federation moved next week’s Fed Cup’s Asia/Oceania Group I event from Dongguan, southern China, to Kazakhstan on February 4-8.
The Asian indoor athletics championships planned for February 12-13 in Hangzhou have also been canceled.