Without fans, Bahrain Grand Prix among events hit by virus

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SAKHIR, Bahrain (AP) – Formula One’s Bahrain Grand Prix has been closed to spectators due to the global virus outbreak, but won’t be postponed like the Chinese round of the championship.

The Bahraini organizers’ decision comes as the wider sporting world battles turmoil caused by the new coronavirus. Soccer, golf, skiing, marathons and Olympic qualifying tournaments have all been disrupted.

More Serie A soccer matches could be postponed after the Italy’s sports minister said on Sunday that the country’s soccer federation should consider suspending the games – minutes before the first match of the day was set to kick off in an empty stadium.

Parma-Spal kicked off after a 75-minute delay as officials considered an appeal from sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora minutes before the scheduled start.

Japan’s Spring Grand Sumo Tournament started Sunday without spectators, and with wrestlers arriving in face masks.

Bahraini organizers said having crowds at the March 22 race would have undermined “aggressive social distancing measures” used to prevent the spread of the virus, which causes the COVID-19 disease. Discouraging people from gathering in large crowds can prevent the virus from spreading.

“Given the continued spread of COVID-19 globally, convening a major sporting event, which is open to the public and allows thousands of international travellers and local fans to interact in close proximity would not be the right thing to do at the present time,” organizers said in a statement.

The F1 season is set to begin with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 15. China was scheduled to hold the fourth race of the season on April 19, but that was postponed due to the virus outbreak and no new date has been set.

Serie A soccer games were set to resume Sunday in empty stadiums amid strict anti-virus measures in Italy, while a French league game between Strasbourg and Paris Saint-Germain was postponed from its scheduled date Saturday.

The Alpine skiing World Cup Finals, Italian cycling races and the women’s ice hockey world championships have all been canceled.

British sporting events could soon be held without spectators, with a meeting between sports bodies, broadcasters and the government set to take place on Monday.

When events do go ahead, fans and athletes are taking new precautions. Soccer players in the English Premier League have scrapped their traditional pre-game handshakes, while leading cricket players have used fist-bump greetings and been issued with hand sanitizer. Face masks are an increasingly common sight in crowds around the world.

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Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain steers his car during the Formula One pre-season testing session at the Barcelona Catalunya racetrack in Montmelo, outside Barcelona, Spain, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Joan Monfort)
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