Do sporting bodies have a moral obligation to postpone or cancel events over coronavirus?

The decision to postpone the upcoming France-Ireland game in the Six Nations because of the coronavirus was no surprise.
Do sporting bodies have a moral obligation to postpone or cancel events over coronavirus?

The Stade de France. Photo: INPHO/James Crombie
The Stade de France. Photo: INPHO/James Crombie

The decision to postpone the upcoming France-Ireland game in the Six Nations because of the coronavirus was no surprise.

Sports events, with the crowds of people milling around in close proximity to each other after national or international travel, are an obvious target for cancellation or postponment.

Do sports governing bodies and organisations have a moral obligation to postpone or cancel events off their own bat, however?

“This is a hard question,” says Dr Vittorio Bufacchi of UCC’s Department of Philosophy.

“You ask ‘are sporting organisations morally obliged to postpone/cancel events’, but these come in many different sizes.

“A big football club is a big business, and a big business is obliged to its shareholders. Smaller organisations operate under different constraints.

“But notwithstanding the size, I don’t think this is primarily a question for sports organisations to answer, since if the issue is one of public health then it can only be answered by experts.”

Bufacchi adds, however, that morality is a consideration that extends beyond government officials in a civil society.

“It is for the government to consult with public health experts and inform sporting organisations of its decision.

“Having said that, morality is not only an issue for governments, it’s an issue for all individuals in civil society.

"So everyone has a duty to what is right, at the individual or group level.

If a sporting organisation feels that there are good arguments for postposing/cancelling an event, then they should act on their moral beliefs, even if this means facing punitive consequences: morality is demanding precisely because it comes with costs and sacrifices.

Dr Marta Rocchi of DCU, assistant professor in corporate governance and business ethics, offers a simple thought experiment when it comes to deciding on sports fixtures.

“All of us have a responsibility of care - for ourselves and for others.

“The easiest way to think about this plague that we are now facing is to think about it in a very personal way: ‘would I want my father or my kid or myself to get the virus because someone did not take the appropriate measures that the governments and the healthcare agencies are suggesting?’”

“If the answer is no, then I will behave in a way that I would like others to behave.”

Rocchi’s thought experiment leads her to a clear conclusion: “If this means to stop public events (including sports), we might think that this is the best thing to do for a long term and hopefully stable good. We should think about it as an investment for ourselves and the whole society.

"Panic or being over-worried are not the right attitude, but full respect for ourselves and the others and trust in the co-ordination of the authorities will help us all.”

Sport-by-sport look at the impact of the coronavirus outbreak

The coronavirus outbreak continues to have an impact on the sporting schedule as some of 2020’s biggest events come into view.

A range of sports have had to take action to prevent the spread of the virus, with postponements hitting the Guinness Six Nations and Formula One, while all domestic sporting action in Italy has been suspended until April 3 at the earliest.

With spectacles such as Euro 2020, the Olympics and golf’s majors on the horizon, we take a sport-by-sport look at the impact of the coronavirus.


All domestic sporting action in Italy – including Serie A matches – has been suspended until April 3 at the earliest. All sporting activities at all levels have been suspended in a bid to contain the outbreak in Italy, the country’s national Olympic committee (CONI) announced on Monday. CONI’s jurisdiction does not cover Italian clubs or national teams involved in international competitions, such as football’s Champions League, but the prime minister announced on Monday evening that the whole country was to be on lockdown from Tuesday.

The French sports ministry has ordered no gatherings of more than 1,000 people, meaning Ligue 1 games must be behind closed doors or in front of no more than 1,000 spectators.

On Tuesday, it was announced the top two divisions in Spanish football would be played behind closed doors until at least March 22, while Barcelona’s Champions League match against Napoli next week will be played without fans.

Wolves’ Europa League game at Olympiacos on Thursday will be behind closed doors. Nottingham Forest’s majority owner Evangelos Marinakis, who also owns Olympiacos, revealed on Tuesday that “the recent virus has visited me”.

It was announced on Tuesday that the Slovakia v Republic of Ireland play-off will be behind closed doors. The Bosnia and Herzegovina Football Federation has suspended ticket sales for this month’s Euro 2020 play-off match with Northern Ireland.

The Swiss Football League is suspended until March 23. The 2022 World Cup qualifiers in Asia due to be played later this month and in June have been postponed. UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin remains optimistic this summer’s Euro 2020 – which is scheduled to be held in 12 cities across the continent – will go ahead as planned. But UEFA has, like the Premier League, banned pre-match handshakes at all of its matches until further notice.

Olympics and Paralympics

The International Olympic Committee remains fully committed to staging the Tokyo 2020 Games as scheduled this summer, despite Japan’s Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto suggesting it could be postponed until later in the year.

Rugby Union

The France v Ireland Guinness Six Nations match has been postponed. The game was due to be played in Paris on March 14. As it stands, the Wales v Scotland match is the only game in the final round of the competition due to go ahead as originally scheduled, after the Italy v England game in Rome was postponed last week. The organisers of rugby union’s European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup competitions, EPCR, said on Monday that the quarter-final ties scheduled for April 3-5 were still set to go ahead.

Formula One

This month’s Bahrain Grand Prix – from March 20-22 – will take place behind closed doors. F1 personnel who have visited high-risk countries within 14 days of their arrival in the Gulf Kingdom will be subjected to an extensive screening process. Italian team Ferrari say they remain in close contact with the authorities in light of the increasing restrictions on movement in the country. The FIA is monitoring the situation having already called off the Chinese Grand Prix. Organisers have insisted the opening round of the Formula One season in Australia on March 13-15 will go ahead as planned.


The opening two races of the MotoGP season – the Grand Prix of Qatar and the Thailand Grand Prix – were also postponed. Organisers moved the Thai event to October 2-4, bringing the Aragon GP forward one week to September 25-27 as a consequence.


Several events in Asia have already been postponed and Italy’s Lorenzo Gagli tested negative for the virus before being allowed to compete in last week’s Oman Open. Italy’s Francesco Laporta was forced to pull out of the Qatar Masters – March 5-8 – after being faced with two weeks’ quarantine due to travel restrictions. The European Tour golf event scheduled to start in Nairobi on March 12 has been postponed. Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley still expects the Masters to go ahead as planned next month.


Fears of two cases of coronavirus at the UAE Tour saw the race cancelled with two stages left and all riders, including Sam Bennett and Eddie Dunbar, put under lockdown. Mitchelton-Scott and Team INEOS decided to withdraw their teams from all racing until the Volta a Catalunya on March 23. Astana Pro Team followed suit, until March 20.


The BNP Paribas Open was called off in the early hours of Monday, less than 24 hours before it was due to begin. Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Kim Clijsters were among the players set to take part in the tournament at Indian Wells. The WTA announced that the Xi’an Open (April 13-19) and Kunming Open (April 27-May 3) – both set to be held in China – were cancelled. Organisers of the Miami Open, due to start on March 23, said on Monday they are monitoring the situation closely but preparations are continuing.


Racegoers planning to attend this week’s Cheltenham Festival have been told not to if they have any of the symptoms of coronavirus or they have been to or transited through the high-risk countries, or been in contact with anyone that has, in the last 14 days.


The World Indoor Championships, which had been due to take place in Nanjing in China this month, have been called off. The Hong Kong Marathon – scheduled for February 8 – was also cancelled. Organisers of the London Marathon are monitoring the situation but the April 26 event is scheduled to go ahead. The Paris Marathon which was due to take place on April 5 has been postponed until October 18 and the Rome Marathon, which was scheduled for March 29, has been cancelled.


All boxing events scheduled for March in Japan have been cancelled.


The £1million China Open, scheduled to start in Beijing at the end of March, has been cancelled. The attendance in the arena for this week’s Gibraltar Open has been limited to 100 people.

Ice skating

The World Short Track Speed Skating Championships, scheduled for March 13-15, were called off.


The International Judo Federation on Monday night announced the cancellation of all Olympic qualification events on the calendar until April 30.

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