Ryu Hyun-jin (Yonhap)
Outbreaks of the novel coronavirus have brought major international sports competitions to an abrupt halt this week, and South Korean athletes plying their trades overseas have been affected as well.
Major League Baseball has canceled the remainder of spring training games, and the start of the new regular season will be delayed by at least two weeks. The Opening Day was originally set for March 26.
Four South Korean big leaguers were in camp this year, a contingent led by Ryu Hyun-jin of the Toronto Blue Jays. Choo Shin-soo of the Texas Rangers, Choi Ji-man of the Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals' rookie pitcher Kim Kwang-hyun were also preparing for the 2020 season.
Those clubs will stay put at their spring training sites for now: the Jays, the Rays and the Cardinals in Florida, and the Rangers in Arizona.
Kim was enjoying an excellent first camp, with eight shutout innings in four appearances, giving him an inside track for one of two rotation spots up for grabs. Ryu, in his first season with the Blue Jays, carried a 1.42 ERA in 6 1/3 innings into his next scheduled appearance over the weekend.
Choi was batting .273 in 10 games with an excellent .448 on-base percentage. He has drawn seven walks and has reached safely in all 10 games so far.
Choo, the oldest South Korean player at 37 entering his 16th big league season, could perhaps use a break. He was hitting .105 (2-for-19) in seven spring training games.
But once MLB's decision came down Thursday (local time), his struggles at the plate were the furthest thing from Choo's mind.
"I love baseball, but health is the most important thing," Choo told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "More important than money. More important than anything, so I think MLB made the right decision.
Once one person is infected, it's easy to infect everybody. We all share the clubhouse together, we shower together, we eat together.
The good thing is we don't have anybody infected right now."
Elsewhere, the LPGA Tour postponed its next three tournaments, including the first major of the season, ANA Inspiration. It was scheduled for April 2-5, but the tour plans to reschedule it and two others for later dates.
The postponements come on the heels of LPGA's decision to cancel three Asian stops in Thailand, Singapore and China. The latest decision means the tour will only have played four of its first 10 scheduled tournaments.
After playing the season's first two events in Florida, the tour made two stops in Australia. After the Asian Swing, the next 15 tournaments were going to be played in mainland America. Some stars who planned to open their season in the US have yet to play, a list that includes the world No. 1 from South Korea, Ko Jin-young, and her countrywoman and world No. 3 Park Sung-hyun.
The PGA Tour went ahead with the opening round of The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, on Thursday (local time). It planned to hold the remaining three rounds without spectators, but hours after the conclusion of the first round, it decided to cancel the tournament and its next three events as well.
South Korean Kim Si-woo, the 2017 winner of this marquee event, was tied for second after a seven-under 65. Im Sung-jae, the tour's reigning Rookie of the Year, had been on a roll of late, picking up his first career title two weeks ago and finishing third last week.
With the continent of Europe also grappling with the spread of COVID-19, the top Spanish football league, La Liga, has been suspended. Former South Korean captain Ki Sung-yueng recently signed with RCD Mallorca and made his Spanish debut last weekend, and he may have to wait a while for his next appearance.
Bundesliga in Germany may join a growing list of football leagues being put on hold, after a second-division player tested positive for the virus earlier in the week. South Korean internationals such as Kwon Chang-hoon (SC Freiburg), Paik Seung-ho (Darmstadt 98) and Lee Jae-sung (Holstein Kiel) are based in Germany.
In amateur sports, two major winter sports events set to take place in Canada have both been scrubbed.
The International Skating Union canceled the World Figure Skating Championships, which would have started in Montreal next Wednesday. South Korea was going to send Cha Jun-hwan in the men's singles, Kim Ye-lim and You Young in the ladies' singles and Min Yu-ra and Daniel Eaton in the ice dance.
The World Women's Curling Championships have been swept aside.
The event would have begun Saturday in Prince George, British Columbia, with the South Korean team led by skip Gim Un-chi set to make its debut.
The team had been training in Canada since March 1. Gim and her team won the qualifying tournament in January, and South Korea entered this week ranked No. 2 in the world. (Yonhap)