The Premier League, one of the world’s most popular sporting competitions, has been suspended until at least April 3. The decision was made by executives in an emergency meeting today (March 13) after two high-profile figures in the game tested positive for coronavirus. All professional soccer in England and Scotland has been shut down.
Mikel Arteta, Arsenal’s Spanish head coach, and Callum Hudson-Odoi, a young English player at Chelsea, both have confirmed infections. The players and staff of Arsenal, Bournemouth, Chelsea, Everton, Leicester and Watford are in self-isolation and awaiting tests.
Major professional leagues around the world have already cancelled, suspended, or delayed their seasons. Uefa, Europe’s governing body, has suspended its own lucrative competitions, the Champions League and Europe League.
Yesterday (March 12), prime minister Boris Johnson admitted that the spread of the coronavirus is expected to get much worse in the UK, but also that medical officers and scientific advisers are focusing on removing the threat of an overwhelming peak of cases in the colder months. He did not place restrictions on large sporting events.
The Premier League says it has a global audience of more than three billion people, with tens of thousands attending live games. The season was scheduled to end in May and has been cut short without a champion. Liverpool fans are particularly unhappy, with their team close to victory for the first time in 30 years. The club also scored a huge sponsorship deal with Nike earlier this year; the sportswear giant paid for champions.
Nor has it been established which teams will be demoted to the English Football League, which has also been suspended. English soccer has has multiple tiers, with the Premier League at the top. Its wealth and global reach are huge incentives for lower-league clubs, who want a slice of the glory, as well as the $5.8 billion handed over by UK broadcasters over a three-year contract. Sky and BT have helped create the narratives and drama that keep many fans hooked and advertisers happy.
The standard process has been abandoned, and it is not clear if the season will be canceled completely, or continue later in the year. The future of all sport is mired in uncertainty.