China’s domestic football season – including its lucrative Super League – has been postponed as sporting bodies join efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus.
The dramatic step follows the postponement of the World Indoor athletics championships, which were due to be held in China in March.
In a statement released on Thursday morning, the China Football Association (CFA) said the move was taken to help with the “prevention and control of the pneumonia epidemic of the new coronavirus infection, and to protect the health of the majority of fans, media, players, coaches, game officials, clubs and district staff”.
It said the decision affected the “2020 season national football competitions at all levels”.
The Chinese Super League, featuring former English Premier League stars such as Yaya Toure, Marouane Fellaini and ex-Chelsea midfielder Oscar, was scheduled to begin on February 22 and to run until October 31.
A new starting date for the season has not been announced.
The CFA said it would “continue to maintain close communication with national authorities, determine the timing of each season’s events in combination with the actual development of the epidemic situation and make reasonable adjustments to the system, schedule and scale of some events when necessary”.
It added that it “pays deep tribute to all medical workers and staff who are currently struggling in the frontline of epidemic prevention and control”.
In Australia, China’s women’s football team has been forced into quarantine at a hotel in Brisbane, Queensland, after the state recorded its first case of coronavirus.
A 44-year-old man from Wuhan – the Chinese city at the centre of the outbreak – is in isolation at the Gold Coast University Hospital, south of Brisbane.
The China team had been due to open the Women’s Olympic football tournament qualifiers with a match against Thailand in Sydney on Monday.
Ticket sales for the tournament have now been suspended.
On Wednesday, World Athletics postponed the World Indoor Championships, due to be held in Nanjing in March.
The sport’s governing body said it had taken the decision following advice from its own medical team and the World Health Organisation, and would look to reschedule the event for March 2021.
World Athletics said in a statement: “We know that China is doing all it can to contain the new coronavirus and we support them in all their efforts but it is necessary to provide our athletes, member federations and partners with a clear way forward in what is a complex and fast-moving set of circumstances.”
World Athletics to postpone World Athletics Indoor Championships Nanjing 2020 to March 2021.
— World Athletics (@WorldAthletics) January 29, 2020
The UK Department of Health has said Britons returning from Wuhan will be placed in quarantine for 14 days.
The Foreign Office updated its advice on Tuesday to warn against all but essential travel to mainland China, saying it may also become more difficult for British nationals in other provinces to leave.
On Wednesday, British Airways announced it was suspending all flights to and from mainland China with immediate effect.
The World Athletics statement added: “The advice from our medical team, who are in contact with the World Health Organisation, is that the spread of the coronavirus both within China and outside the country is still at a concerning level and no one should be going ahead with any major gathering that can be postponed.
“We have considered the possibility of relocating the event to another country and would like to thank the cities that have volunteered to host the championships.
“However, given concerns still exist regarding the spread of the virus outside China, we have decided not to go with this option, as it may lead to further postponement at a later date.”
The escalation of the crisis puts the status of the Formula One Chinese Grand Prix, scheduled to take place in Shanghai in April, in jeopardy.
An F1 spokesman told the PA news agency: “Following the ongoing developments in China and in light of official advice issued by the British Foreign Office, we continue to monitor the situation in China closely with (motor racing’s world governing body) the FIA and the promoter on the ground.”
There have been almost 8,000 confirmed cases in China, with the death toll standing at 170. More than 50 cases have been confirmed outside China.