Seattle Sounders Continue Play as Coronavirus Takes Toll in Washington

Seattle Sounders March 2020

Although Seattle Sounders FC has played its first two regular-season contests of 2020 as scheduled, the club is well aware of the toll that coronavirus is taking on Seattle and Washington state.

Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has taken a particular toll in Washington state, where the reported number of deaths climbed to 18 on Sunday and responses have included closings for businesses and schools. In the days leading up to Saturday’s match against Columbus Crew SC, the Sounders announced that the game would take place as scheduled with fans allowed into CenturyLink Field. However, the club also stated it would follow updated guidelines from Public Health – Seattle & King County, while implementing additional safety measures around the stadium, and encouraging any fans who are sick or at-risk to not attend the match.

Ultimately, Saturday’s game was played before a reported total of 33,080 fans, a smaller crowd than the 40,126 that attended the club’s 2020 opener at CenturyLink Field on March 1. While the game went on as scheduled, the effect that coronavirus is having on Washington state certainly weighed on the minds Sounders front office officials and players, who had plenty of factors to weigh as they proceeded with plans for Saturday. More from The Washington Post:

Listen to the Sounders explain their process, and it illuminates the difficult choices facing every sports league in America and throughout the world. The priority is public safety, but business is a major factor. There’s also a civic responsibility to try to entertain during a difficult time. There are medical factors, political factors, societal factors and historical factors. There are so many possibilities to weigh. Play, postpone or cancel? Compete in an empty venue? How to send the proper message to athletes, fans and media? How to determine the right thing to do knowing that everything is fluid?

“It was an extraordinary week,” said Peter Tomozawa, the Sounders’ president of business operations. “It was anything but normal. We spent an incredible amount of time thinking through all the issues of hosting a game, the permutations and combinations of what might happen, with one thought: public safety. We recognize the responsibility that we have to the community. People are looking at us and how we behave here in Seattle.”…

The organization seemed to handle the burden responsibly. It provided the public with more than two hours of diversion Saturday. It is normal for the Sounders this time of year, but now it’s a monumental feat. And just because it seemed to work for them on this day, there’s no telling what challenges tomorrow may present….

“In reality, what we’re doing is more of a hobby for everybody,” Sounders midfielder Gustav Svensson said. “We’re very fortunate to have it as a job. We understand that safety comes first.”

Concerns over the spread of coronavirus are already having implications for sporting events in the United States, ranging from colleges cancelling games to the NBA telling teams to prepare for the possibility of playing games before empty arenas, the NHL implementing a series of procedures, and MLB undertaking drastic precautions during spring training. While the Sounders have moved forward with their first two games as scheduled, the spread of coronavirus is still very much an evolving situation that the club–and MLS as a whole–will likely have to continue monitoring. The club’s next home match is scheduled for March 21.

Image courtesy Seattle Sounders FC.

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