The NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS have announced they will close access to locker rooms and clubhouses in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a joint statement issued on Monday night, the leagues indicated the decision had been taken following consultations with medical experts in a bid to ensure the safety of players and staff.
A number of NHL teams closed their locker rooms at the weekend, with NBA, MLB and MLS to implement the policy from Tuesday for an indefinite period.
Indian Wells is First U.S. Sport Event Canceled Over COVID-19 Outbreak
Player availability at practices and games in the NHL has been held outside the locker rooms or at news conference podiums and a similar approach is expected to be adopted by the NBA.
The Associated Press reported the league told the 30 franchise on Monday that the move was not aimed at curtailing access to reporters and insisted interviews will continue as normal outside the locker rooms, providing players and interviewers maintain a distance of a least six feet between them.
“Given the issues that can be associated with close contact in pre- and post-game settings, all team locker rooms and clubhouses will be open only to players and essential employees of teams and team facilities until further notice,” part of the join statement issued by the four leagues read.
“Media access will be maintained in designated locations outside of the locker room and clubhouse setting.”
The NFL was also part of the discussion along with the other four leagues but it did not implement the policy as its teams are currently not holding practices or playing games.
The decision to close locker rooms and clubhouses was met with disappointment by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
“The decision by Major League Baseball to join other leagues in closing the clubhouse to media is disappointing, even as a ‘temporary step,’ and we desire to work with MLB and MLBPA to discuss solutions beneficial to the players and media alike, until we can return to the access that allows us to chronicle the game and humanize its performers like no other sport,” it said in a statement.
The professional writers associations for all the four leagues, along with the Associated Press Sports Editors and the Pro Football Writers of America struck a more conciliatory tone but also stressed the importance of not limiting access to locker rooms when not strictly necessary.
“We understand precautions may be necessary in the name of public health,” the industry bodies said in a joint statement.
“We are intent on working with the leagues, teams and schools we cover to maintain safe work environments. We also must ensure the locker room accesswhich we have negotiated over decadesto players, coaches and staff is not unnecessarily limited in either the short or long term.”
As of Tuesday morning, at least 755 cases have been reported in the U.S., with 26 deaths and eight people recovered, according to Johns Hopkins University which has been tracking the outbreak using combined data sources.
Over 4,000 people have died since the outbreak of coronavirus began in Wuhan, a city located in China’s central Hubei province, late last year. There are over 114,000 cases globally, with 64,000 recovered.
Also on Tuesday, the San Jose Sharks confirmed they were considering their options after Santa Clara’s Public Health Department announced a ban on events with more than 1,000 attendees.
California is among the worst-affected states dealing with hundreds of cases, and a coronavirus-related death was reported in Santa Clara County on Monday.
The Sharks are currently in a middle of a four-game road trip and aren’t scheduled to play at home until next week.
“We will adhere to the mandated guidelines,” the NHL franchise said in a statement posted on Twitter. “No events are scheduled at SAP Center until Tuesday, March 17. We will be reviewing each scheduled event due to take place for the rest of the month and provide an update in the coming days.”
On Monday, the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells became the first sporting event in the U.S. to be canceled because of coronavirus.
The tournamenttennis’s second-biggest in the U.S. behind the U.S. Openwas due to begin on Monday in California but tournament organizers have opted to postpone it instead.
Meanwhile, Italy has canceled all sporting events until April 3 as it struggles to contain the spread of coronavirus. With 9,172, the country has the second-highest number of reported cases after China with over 400 deaths.
On Monday night, the Italian prime minister declared a country-wide lockdown in a bid to contain the virus.
World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
- Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
- Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before; during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
- Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.
- If you feel unwell (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and call local health authorities in advance.
- Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.
- Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
- Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
- Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
- Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
- Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of mask.
- Do not reuse single-use masks.