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Banning spectators from L.A.-area sporting events is a possibility amid coronavirus outbreak

A LAFC player runs on the field at Banc of California Stadium.
Los Angeles County health officials said banning spectators from sporting events in Southern California could be an “extreme” measure used to combat the coronavirus.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County officials have discussed the possibility of banning spectators from attending sporting events in Southern California in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The county declared a health emergency Wednesday as the number of coronavirus cases in the region increased to seven.

“If at any point we think that there’s good reason for us to be worried about extensive, extensive community transmission ... we may ask for modifications at large public events,” county health director Barbara Ferrer said. “This could be that games are played but there are no spectators. This could be that there are limits to how people are going to gather at public events. But I want to reassure everyone we are not there today.”

Ferrer called such measures “extreme.”

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“What this is,” she added “is a call for preparedness.”

A spokesman for LAFC, which has played before 38 consecutive sellout crowds in its 22,000-seat stadium in Exposition Park, said the team participated this week in a conference call with health officials and the operators of other Los Angeles sports and entertainment venues over how to deal with a “worst-case” scenario.

A look at how sports leagues, including the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL, are monitoring the coronavirus outbreak.

“And obviously the worst is the city can come in and cancel events,” said Seth Burton, the team’s vice president of communication. “Another option would be for games to be played with no fans. So there’s all degrees of it. Everyone knows that could happen. But hopefully we’re not there yet.”

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LAFC is expecting another sellout crowd for Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Union.

Brendan Hannan, vice president of marketing and communications for the Galaxy, said the team’s parent company, AEG, which also owns the Kings and manages both the Staples Center and Dignity Health Sports Park, has been developing contingency plans should the situation worsen.

The Galaxy is expecting more than 27,000, its biggest crowd in at least four seasons, for Saturday’s home opener with the Vancouver Whitecaps.

MLS commissioner Don Garber said the league is monitoring the situation closely.

All sporting events in Italy will occur without fans present for at least the next month because of the coronavirus outbreak, the Italian government said.

“I think you’re going to see coordination discussions,” said Garber, who said MLS is in contact with other leagues around the world. “All of the leagues have their own programs.”

MLS has formed a task force under the direction of Margot Putukian, its chief medical officer, and is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and Canada’s Public Health Agency in Ottawa.

“We’re no different than any other league, any other business that’s catering to the public,” Garber said. “We, like every other citizen in the world, are paying close attention to it.”

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Coronavirus fears have led soccer officials in Japan, South Korea and China to delay the start of the regular season. In Italy, more than a dozen matches, including this week’s Coppa Italia semifinals, have been postponed, leaving that country’s soccer association considering the possibility of playing future matches in empty stadium as well.


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