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Coronavirus wreaks havoc for sports

Leemisa Thuseho | Moorosi Tsiane

ALTHOUGH Lesotho is yet to record a case of the coronavirus (CODIV-19), the outbreak has already wreaked havoc on the sporting scene as several athletes have seen numerous engagements in different countries being canceled or postponed.

The senior men’s soccer team, Likuena, had hoped to travel to Benin for its first leg of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers on 23 March 2020 but the has now been postponed after CAF postponed all qualifiers.

Prior to the postponement, the Lesotho Football Association (LeFA) had already said it would wait for CAF’s direction.

“After studying carefully, the current situation, CAF has decided to postpone the Total Africa Cup of Nations 2021 qualifiers, scheduled for 25 to 31March 2020,” a CAF statement reads.

“We will also share with you a proposal of a new calendar that will be communicated on a second step, according to the evolution of the coronavirus situation.

“Please rest assured that CAF is always in contact with World Health Organisation (WHO), in order to get updated reports on Africa’s situation, and CAF Medical Committee are carrying as well many inspection visits to the countries hosting the final tournaments.”

The University of eSwatini (UNESWA) has also postponed the 2020 Intervarsity Games that were meant to be held from 15 to 20 March 2020.

Before the indefinite postponement, Botswana had already indicated that its athletes would not attend.

The tournament is attended by participants from the National University of Lesotho (NUL), the University of Botswana and the hosts UNESWA.

On the other, Lesotho’s chances of hosting their first ever Zone 4.3 Individual Chess Championships hangs in the balance. The event is set for 27 March 2020.

Chess Federation of Lesotho (CFL) president Tšeliso Motloheloa said they would decide once they collect the opinions of all local stakeholders.

Motloheloa however, revealed that the international chess federation and the African Chess Confederation (ACC) still want the event to be held.

“This is not our event, Lesotho is just the organising country and since there are no confirmed cases in all the member countries except in South Africa, FIDE and ACC want their event to continue as planned,” Motloheloa said.

He said preparations were on track and participating countries have already registered their athletes.

On his part, medical practitioner Makhetha Mosotho said it was easy to transmit the virus through sports because there is contact of persons. He therefore, recommended that the sporting fraternity takes all precautions from WHO including cancelling events that attract large crowds.

“Players safety come first,” Makhetha said.

He added that before the country decides to cancel any trip, it should engage the concerned international federations to avoid fines and other bitter consequences stemming from failure to fulfil games.

The coronavirus was first detected in china in January this year where it has killed over 5 000 people. However, lately, the virus has spread across the world and over 140 000 confirmed cases had been recorded yesterday according to the WHO.

The coronavirus has also spread to several countries on the African continent, with Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Guinea, Mauritania and eSwatini all confirming their first cases on Friday and Saturday.

Cases have also spread to Europe with Italy initially being the epicenter although countries like the United Kingdom were by yesterday fast peaking up. By yesterday, the UK had recorded 21 deaths with Spain recording 1 500 cases in 24 hours.

And it is the surge in European cases that has affected athletes like long distance runner Motlokoa Nkhabutlane whose maiden participation in the Haj Hannover Half Marathon is hanging in the balance due to the outbreak.

The German government has already moved to suspend all events that gather more than 1 000 participants. The road race is scheduled for 26 April 2020 in Hannover.

The international health regulations manager in the Ministry of Health, Khotso Mahomo, said the all trips must be postponed.

“The government has resolved that foreign trips should be stopped unless it is a life-threatening situation. Therefore, I wouldn’t advise our teams to continue with the events. In terms of soccer, I know that Benin hasn’t recorded any case up to today (Friday) but fixtures like this are always risky because many people gather,” Mahomo said.

Several other athletics activities have been cancelled across Europe while others are being played in empty stadiums across the world.

Countries have been racing against time to cancel or postpone some of their sporting events due to the virus.

The English Premiership, the Spainish La Liga, the Dutch Eredivisie, Portugal’s Primera Liga and USA’s Major League Soccer are some of the leagues that have been temporarily suspended. Most of the league are only expected back in action in April.

Players and coaches have also tested positive for the virus with the most prominent being Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta and Chelsea striker Callum Hudson-Odoi.

FIFA on Friday announced the postponement of the Conmebol 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

A statement from FIFA reads: “Following consultation with CONMEBOL, FIFA has decided to postpone the upcoming South American qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 as follows:

  • Matches originally scheduled to take place during the international window of 23-31 March 2020 are postponed to later dates
  • Details of the postponed matches will be discussed and announced soon

“FIFA will continue to assess the situation in relation to COVID-19 and will decide whether further changes to the schedule of South American FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifiers are required, always with the aim of protecting the health and safety of all individuals involved,” the statement reads.

On Friday England’s Test series against Sri Lanka was also postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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