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In NHL and NBA, teams spurn officials’ pleas to banish fans over coronavirus fears

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, center, squeezes between Cleveland Cavaliers’ Ante Zizic, left and Matthew Dellavedova in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Feb. 26, in Cleveland.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, center, squeezes between Cleveland Cavaliers’ Ante Zizic, left and Matthew Dellavedova in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Feb. 26, in Cleveland.

A growing number of pro sports teams — in both the NHL and the NBA — plan to let fans attend their games despite requests from local officials that the events be held without spectators.

Today, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine asked that indoor sporting events in the state restrict crowds — with just athletes, parents, media and required personnel attending — to protect against coronavirus. That included pro sports. But a few hours later, the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets, which play in Ohio’s capital, said they planned to host two games this week as scheduled, with ticketed fans welcome to attend.

The team said it has been in contact with the National Hockey League, which is talking with groups like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Canada’s public health agency.

“We are committed to the health and safety of our players, staff and fans,” the team said. “To that end, guests should adhere to recommendations that suggest persons at higher risk, including elderly individuals and those with currently compromised health issues or who are feeling ill, avoid large-scale public events.”

The Blue Jackets aren’t alone. The NBA’s Cavaliers, who play in Cleveland, said in a joint statement with arena Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse that fans would remain welcome at events. That includes a game played by the Cleveland Monsters hockey team, an affiliate of the Blue Jackets, scheduled for Sunday. The Cavs, meanwhile, are currently on the road until March 24.

“We will continue to evaluate, make decisions and provide appropriate updates concerning any potential changes to the ongoing event and game schedule as needed,” the Cavs said in the joint statement.

The NBA’s Golden State Warriors, who play in San Francisco, are also allowing fans at their games, despite the city having blocked all “nonessential” public gatherings at city-owned facilities. Even though the Warriors’ arena is privately owned, the San Francisco health officer recommended on Saturday that “large gatherings that are not essential be canceled.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom chided pro sports for not taking coronavirus seriously enough. The leagues have barred media from locker rooms, but they haven’t addressed the threat to fans, he said.

“I’ve found it quite curious that the four major organizations — NHL, soccer, Major League Baseball and the NBA — put out guidelines to protect their players but not their fans,” he said at a press conference today.

Sporting events around the country are being disrupted by the virus. The Ivy League announced today that it was canceling its postseason basketball tournaments scheduled to be held outside Boston, while the ACC said its tournament in North Carolina would go on as planned.

The sports world is eagerly awaiting a decision from the NCAA, which has said it is exploring its options for March Madness. The three-week basketball tournament is scheduled to open with four games, coincidentally enough, in Ohio.

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