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Coronavirus: How COVID-19 will impact the UFC and other MMA events throughout 2020

Karim Zidan delves into COVID-19, the infectious disease spreading across the globe and how it will continue to impact MMA events around the world. 

Photo by INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Getty Images

As the coronavirus disease 2019 — known as COVID-19 — continues to spread across the globe, infecting more than 110,000 people leading to more than 3800 deaths, countries have responded to the pandemic by postponing or cancelling large-scale entertainment events such as art fairs, literary festivals, concerts, and sporting events.

In just the past few days alone, Bahrain has announced that their annual F-1 Grand Prix event will take place behind closed doors, the Bundesliga may finish the season without spectators, the Indian Wells Masters tennis tournament was canceled with others expected to follow, while Italy — the hardest hit European country with more than 7000 cases — has banned spectators from attending sports events, including Serie A football games.

As for mixed martial arts (MMA), the past few days have seen Euro-African promotion ARES FC postpone an upcoming event in Belgium because of coronavirus concerns. ONE Championship followed suit shortly thereafter and postponed its March 20 show in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam after hosting its previous event in Singapore behind closed doors. Other promotions such as KSW and Pancrase have postponed upcoming events while Combate Americas announced a “proactive plan” that included postponing upcoming shows and scheduling new ones on a closed-set TV studio.

”Combate Americas’ mission is to bring together people throughout the U.S., Mexico, South America and Spain, and that requires frequent travel to an array of locations, both foreign and domestic,” Combate Americas CEO Campbell McLaren stated. “Our live studio version of Combate Americas will continue to deliver mucha más acción.”

Even the UFC, which hosted its latest Pay-Per-View event this past weekend in Paradise, Nevada, is bracing itself for potential coronavirus complications. During a pre-fight media scrum, UFC President Dana White admitted that COVID-19 was a “serious problem” and that the UFC was already taking steps to mitigate its effect.

UFC 249 Khabib Nurmagomedov Tony Ferguson MMA News Shakiel Mahjouri COVID-19 Coronavirus Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

“We all should [have plans],” White said in response to a question about the measures the UFC is taking in the face of this issue. “This is a serious problem. We’re looking at how this will affect our business this year, and how we battle this thing moving forward. We’re already working on this. We’ve been working on this [since] a month and a half ago.”

While the UFC has not shown any signs of postponing or canceling any of their upcoming shows, the promotion may be forced to consider those options based on some of their forthcoming event locations. This article will attempt to extrapolate the potential problems that the UFC might face as the coronavirus continues to spread in North America, and why the promotion should consider mitigating the spread of the infectious disease.

The Dangers of Attending Sports Events Amidst COVID-19 Outbreaks

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which is a virus related to SARS. The infection spreads via respiratory droplets from airways like coughing or sneezing, while the onset of symptoms such as fever, shortness of breath and headache is between 2 and 14 days. However, given that the incubation period ranges from 1 to 14 days (averaging 5-6 days), it is possible to spread the virus before being aware that you have been infected yourself.

Due to the infectious nature of the disease, global health organizations including the World health organization (WHO) have published preventative measures to reduce the chance of spreading the infection in locations with outbreaks. These preventative measures include staying home, avoiding travel, staying away from large-scale public gatherings, and practicing good respiratory hygiene such as washing hands with soap and hot water, coughing into a bent elbow, and avoiding touching your face unnecessarily.

There remains no specific treatment for COVID-19, though research is currently underway. A vaccination is unlikely to be available for another 18 months, which means that other preventative measures will be required to contain the spread. This leads us back to large-scale public events such as concerts, movie theatres, festivals, and sports events and the steps many have taken as a precaution to protect spectators and attendees from contracting the disease.

Empty seats at Borussia-Park football stadium are pictured on March 10, 2020
Photo by INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Getty Images

While many sports organizations have canceled or postponed their upcoming events, others in less troubled regions are recommended to increase staff requirements for cleaning and disinfecting venues. Others are developing policies, protocols and guidelines for how to recognize symptoms or identify potential new cases. These measures will help protect fans in attendance and limit the potential spread of the disease.

This will likely apply to the UFC, which according to White, have no intention of outright canceling any of their upcoming shows, including the anticipated UFC 249 PPV headlined by Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson. However, it remains to be seen whether that will remain the case, as the event is scheduled to take place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y where Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared a state of emergency on Saturday as the number of coronavirus cases in New York rose to 89. The epicentre of the infection in New York State is in Westchester County north of the city, so it remains unclear whether this will have an impact on the upcoming UFC show.

Another upcoming UFC event is scheduled to take place in Portland, Oregon, where Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency after seven new cases of COVID-19 were revealed on Sunday morning. Bloody Elbow’s Mookie Alexander contacted the Oregon State Athletic Commission for comment on whether there are any plans in place for UFC Portland

“We will continue to monitor the situation, but there is no impact or contingency plan in place as of now,” read the official statement, which was released prior to Oregon’s state of emergency was put in place. “Should UFC choose to take additional precautions, we will work with them to make further plans. Per standard procedures, Doctors medically qualify each competitor by performing pre-fight medicals to confirm each competitors health for competition, to include a required temperature reading below 100.4 F as standard procedures.”

There are just two examples of potential obstacles the UFC will face as it continues to move forward with its event calendar. And yet, despite the continued spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, White has no intention of postponing or canceling the upcoming shows.

“I don’t give a shit about the coronavirus,” White told TSN Sports reporter Aaron Bronsteter following UFC 248. “As far as I’m concerned, we’ll continue to run our business.”

The UFC has not responded to a request for comment.

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