The English Premier League has suspended all football matches, becoming the latest sporting competition around the world to stop playing fixtures in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
On Friday, following an emergency meeting of its 20 member clubs, the country’s top football competition decided it would suspend all games until April 4.
The English Football League (EFL), which runs the professional divisions below the Premier League, and the Women’s Super League, have also postponed fixtures until April 3.
The move came after Arsenal announced on Thursday night that manager Mikel Arteta had contracted the virus, with the club’s playing squad forced to self-isolate. In the early hours of Friday, rival London-based team Chelsea announced its footballers had also gone into quarantine after winger Callum Hudson-Odoi tested positive.
“Above all, we wish Mikel Arteta and Callum Hudson-Odoi speedy recoveries, and everyone else affected by Covid-19,” said Premier League chief executive Richard Masters.
“In this unprecedented situation, we are working closely with our clubs, government, the Football Association and EFL and can reassure everyone the health and welfare of players, staff and supporters are our priority.”
Earlier on Friday, UEFA – European football’s governing body – postponed all matches in its club competitions including the Champions League and Europa League. Matches in the prestigious continental tournaments have taken place this week, with most played in empty stadiums.
Other big European leagues, including Italy’s Serie A and Spain’s La Liga, have already postponed matches. UEFA had called an emergency meeting to take place next Tuesday to plan its response to the coronavirus outbreak, where it will make decisions including whether to delay the Euro 2020 championships — a national team competition due to be played across 12 cities in June.
“In the light of developments due to the spread of Covid-19 in Europe and related decisions made by different governments, all UEFA club competitions matches scheduled next week are postponed,” said UEFA in a statement on Friday.
“Further decisions on when these matches take place will be communicated in due course.”
Sporting competitions have been postponed or cancelled across the world over recent days, from most major North American leagues such as the National Basketball Association, to the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne that was due to take place this weekend.
The cancellations are a big setback for broadcasters, who pay billions of pounds for the right to live sports to fill schedules, attract viewers and sell advertising. One US executive said that while licensing contracts differed, broadcasters were typically only obliged to pay for events that actually took place.
“If there are no games, there will not be money flowing in [to clubs or leagues],” the executive said.
Sporting clubs are also facing steep bills from fixtures, if they are cancelled in the future. In the Premier League, clubs made £720m in annual match-day sales last season, according to the consultancy Deloitte, representing about 14 per cent of all revenues.
Executives at leading English football clubs insist they have insurance policies that will protect them against losses of match-day revenue if matches are ultimately cancelled.
However, one official at a leading Premier League side said this was yet to be tested as they had never been forced to claim on the policy for “force majeure” events.