In a move that has shocked the sporting world, organisers have cancelled the prestigious Indian Wells tennis tournament a day before it was set to begin due to fears of coronavirus contamination.
World No.1 Ashleigh Barty, Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal were among the high-profile players due to compete in the southern California event.
The Riverside County Public Health Department declared a public health emergency Sunday for the desert cities east of Los Angeles, including Indian Wells where the ATP and WTA tours were to play the two-week tournament.
It came as a case of coronavirus was confirmed in the nearby Coachella Valley. No further details were immediately provided on the confirmed case of the illness.
— BNP Paribas Open (@BNPPARIBASOPEN) March 9, 2020
Informally referred to as the ‘fifth grand slam’ because of its popularity with players, Indian Wells typically attracts more than 450,000 fans over its 10 days.
“We are very disappointed that the tournament will not take place, but the health and safety of the local community, fans, players, volunteers, sponsors, employees, vendors, and everyone involved with the event is of paramount importance,” tournament director Tommy Haas said.
“We are prepared to hold the tournament on another date and will explore options,” he added.
Having trouble getting my head around the huge impact of Indian Wells being cancelled. Sport is often a refuge from global disasters and crises because it unifies people – but in this situation of Coronavirus that’s exactly what exacerbates the problem. All a bit surreal.
— Matt Roberts (@Roberts96Matt) March 9, 2020
The decision to postpone the tournament was based on the guidance of medical professionals, the US Centers for Disease Control and the state of California, tournament officials said.
Earlier in the week, officials had announced several measures to protect players, fans and staff at the event.
Ball kids were going to have to wear gloves and not touch the towels of players on the court.
Organised player and fan interaction was also going to be limited at the tournament.
The Indian Wells postponement comes as French health minister Olivier Veran announced that all gatherings of more than 1000 people are now prohibited in the country.
The Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix, due to be staged from March 20-22, will take place without spectators due to the outbreak.
The Australian GP is expected to be held as normal this week.
A final decision has not yet been confirmed by UEFA but the Greek government announced on Sunday that all professional sports events for the next fortnight will be played without spectators.