The Canadian sports landscape changed dramatically on Thursday because of the COVID-19 outbreak, with the country’s top teams and athletes nearly all affected by the worldwide pandemic.
One by one, events and games disappeared from the schedule on an unprecedented day of suspensions and cancellations.
The day also included the Toronto Raptors advising players and travelling staff to go into self-isolation for 14 days after a Utah Jazz player tested positive for the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, causing the NBA to suspend its schedule. The Raptors played in Salt Lake City against the Jazz on Monday.
The NHL, the American-based pro league with the highest number of Canadian teams (seven), followed the NBA’s lead in suspending play on Thursday.
True North Sports and Entertainment chairman Mark Chipman, who runs the Winnipeg Jets, was asked about contingency plans to deal with the suspension.
“They have not been developed,” he said. “They’re just really raw ideas that are being bantered around right now, because I don’t think anybody understands the time frame that we’re dealing with. So it’s really very difficult to speculate on whether it would be an abbreviated season. Or what a playoff format would look like.”
Hockey Canada cancelled all its sanctioned activities, including their national championship tournaments.
The men’s and women’s university hockey championships were also cancelled. The announcement came after two women’s quarterfinals were played in Charlottetown and two men’s quarterfinals were played in Halifax.
Major League Soccer, with Toronto FC, the Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps, also suspended action for 30 days. Major League Baseball, with the Toronto Blue Jays as the lone Canadian team, suspended spring training and announced the start of the regular season, originally set for March 26, would be delayed by at least two weeks.
The PGA tour cancelled tournaments for the next three weeks, including the Players Championship which featured five Canadians.
The moves Thursday were widely expected following the NBA’s decision on Wednesday. They came as experts stressed the importance of social distancing this week.
“The more you can separate people in general, the more likely you are to slow down that way of transmission,” David Buckeridge, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at McGill University, said this week.
“So obviously, the highest risk of that kind of transmission is when you get lots and lots of people together in the same place, so for a big sporting event or rally or parade.”
Domestically, B.C. followed Quebec and Nova Scotia in recommending — and receiving — the cancellation of a world championship of a major winter sport.
Just two days before competition started, organizers announced the world women’s curling championship in Prince George, B.C., would not be played.
The world women’s hockey championship in Nova Scotia was cancelled Saturday and the world figure skating championships in Montreal were taken off the schedule on Wednesday.
The list of events wiped out grew by the minute.
Among the other big developments for Canadians:
— All three Canadian major junior hockey leagues, the American Hockey League, the ECHL and the National Lacrosse League suspended play.
— The CFL cancelled all its combines and clubs started calling off free-agent camps.
— A World Cup cross-country ski event in Canmore, Alta., next week was cancelled. The World Cup stop in Quebec City this weekend remains on schedule for now, but Canada’s team and several top countries have withdrawn.
— Canada’s Olympic qualifier for baseball in Arizona later this month was postponed.
— The Alberta Junior Hockey League playoffs have been postponed.
— BioSteel cancelled its annual All-Canadian basketball games.
— Men and women’s university volleyball championships were also cancelled.
“The only comparable situation that comes to mind where there was widespread shutdown from a North American perspective is 9/11, but that was for just one week, and only really affected the MLB and NFL,” Brock University assistant professor of Sport Management Michael Naraine said in a statement.
“Other than that, there have not been many occasions with complete shutdowns save for (the Second) World War, which affected the Olympic Games and Tour de France.”
Some events did go on.
An Olympic qualifier for wrestling still is scheduled to start Friday in Ottawa.
Swimming Canada says it is evaluating contingency plans for its upcoming Olympic and Paralympic trials in Toronto.
Most people diagnosed with COVID-19 experience mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the vast majority of those who contract the virus recover. The Public Health Agency of Canada says the risk to the general population is low.
However, for some, including Canadians aged 65 and over, those with compromised immune systems and those with pre-existing conditions, the illness can be much more severe. Among the Canadians diagnosed with the illness so far, fewer than 15 per cent have required hospitalization.