March 14, 2020 / 9:28 AM / 16 days ago

Sport takes another hit with New Zealand's measures to contain coronavirus

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Strict border controls in New Zealand to prevent the spread of the coronavirus delivered another hammer blow to international sport on Saturday, forcing the cancellation of a cricket series and threating the integrity of rugby and soccer competitions.

A day after golf’s Masters tournament was postponed and English soccer’s Premier League suspended, southern hemisphere sport was left in turmoil following the announcement of the world’s tightest border restrictions by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

The controls, requiring all incoming travellers to self-isolate for two weeks from midnight on Sunday, triggered the immediate postponement of cricket tours between Australia and New Zealand, while sparking crisis meetings in Super Rugby.

Australia’s top-flight rugby league and soccer competitions were also plunged into doubt, with New Zealand teams facing a logistical nightmare to participate.

The coronavirus has infected more than 138,000 people worldwide, with the death toll topping 5,000.

All but one of New Zealand’s Black Caps cricket team flew home from Sydney on Saturday, with the one-day international series against Australia abandoned after one match.

Fast bowler Lockie Ferguson was left behind with two team staff after being isolated in his hotel room while awaiting the result of a coronavirus test. He was later cleared to return home.

Australia’s subsequent tour of New Zealand for a Twenty20 series later this month was also postponed.

The New Zealand restrictions left the sprawling Super Rugby competition in jeopardy after only six completed rounds of the regular season.

With teams from Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Japan needing to spend two weeks quarantined to play matches in New Zealand, the viability of the whole tournament may be in peril.

Governing body SANZAAR said it was assessing the “full impact” of the government curbs, even as New Zealand’s Otago Highlanders prepared to play in Argentina with little hope of returning home before Sunday’s deadline.

Auckland Blues chief executive Andrew Hore told New Zealand media the future of the competition was up in the air.

“You’ve got to say there are some serious questions over it now,” he added.

The travel curbs blindsided the New Zealand Warriors, who compete in Australia’s National Rugby League, and Wellington Phoenix, who play in Australia’s A-League, the top flight soccer competition.

The Phoenix, who are in contention for the playoffs with seven games left in their season, said it would be “impossible” to play any more home games.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has called for an end to all non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people from Monday, cancelled plans to go to a rugby game on Saturday after a senior minister was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Friday.

The coronavirus continued to rock European soccer, with clubs in France and Germany reporting their first infections, adding to a slew of cases recorded in Italy’s Serie A.

With professional sport brought to a virtual standstill in much of Europe and the United States, Japan has battled to dispel speculation that the 2020 Olympics starting in July could be cancelled or postponed.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike on Saturday vowed to take thorough measures against the coronavirus outbreak for the Olympic Torch relay through Japan in the wake of Greece’s decision to cancel the remainder of its leg on Friday.

Editing by Peter Rutherford

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