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Cancel the rest of the season in world soccer

Cancel the soccer. Cancel all the games. Cancel them now.

The NBA is canceled on account of the coronavirus. The NHL is canceled. Even crusty old Major League Baseball saw fit to suspend spring training and delay the start of the regular season. 

Major League Soccer is on hiatus, too. So is the CONCACAF Champions League. The U.S. men’s and women’s national teams have canceled upcoming games. Italy’s Serie A shut down indefinitely. So did La Liga in Spain. The Dutch league also stopped playing, albeit on government orders rather than of its own accord. Belgium; Denmark; Portugal; Scotland; Norway — no soccer.

The Bundesliga appeared to be winding down its entire season at the time of writing, after one more round of games this weekend. The Premier League is foolishly going forward with games this weekend despite several players currently quarantined, but it feels inevitable it will halt play as well. After all, La Liga was suspended once it became apparent that Real Madrid had been exposed through its basketball team, which shares facilities. If the Italian circuit had not been on hiatus already, it likely would have stopped regardless once a Juventus player tested positive and then a Sampdoria one did, too.

And UEFA? European soccer’s governing body?

UEFA announced that it … will hold a videoconference call to figure things out … on Tuesday.

It seemed unfathomable — and deeply irresponsible — that Thursday’s slate of Europa League games should go on. And yet it did, save for a pair of games between Spanish and Italian teams. It felt particularly poignant to watch Manchester United play its quarterfinals first leg at LASK in an empty stadium just a day after manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seemed to endorse halting the competition.

Tuesday’s Real Madrid-Manchester City and Lyon-Juventus matches had already been postponed because of their self-quarantines. But UEFA will wait the better part of another week to decide on Wednesday’s fixtures and indeed the remainder of the continental club season — and this summer’s Euro 2020, too.

The implications of putting those competitions on hold, or moving the Euro back by a year, are endless, the ripples of these decisions coursing through the sport for months, if not years.

But there is only one answer here. We find ourselves in an unprecedented global emergency. Everything is secondary to solving it and saving lives. 

The rest of the soccer season is more unimportant than ever in light of the coronavirus. (Photo by Martin Rickett/EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images)

Certainly, it would be unfortunate for the seasons to never be completed, or to be diluted. Meanwhile, relegation and promotion, and all manner of continental qualification, has to be worked out so that teams can plan for next season. Nobody wants an asterisk behind the season — and certainly not Liverpool, which has all but clinched its first Premier League title in 30 years with its unprecedented form.

But it would be more unfortunate still if UEFA’s refusal to act decisively and in the larger public interest caused a single extra person to get sick from the virus. We have already learned that athletes are not immune to getting COVID-19, and it’s entirely possible that they could pass it during games — no matter how much hand sanitizer is passed around before kickoff.

Teams moving around Europe comprise traveling parties of, at a minimum, several dozen people. And even empty stadiums require staffing. Absent the fans, soccer games still represent public gatherings of a good amount of people. And the travel is extensive.

At this stage, it all feels so unnecessary.

Soccer isn’t so consequential. That’s the beauty of sports: They only matter as much as we want them to. 

The most useful thing soccer can contribute at this juncture is perspective, to offer an acknowledgement that its importance has diminished to almost zero. Sure, some escapism and distraction would be nice in anxious times, with lots of people hunkered down with little to do. But not at the cost and risk it poses to those involved. 

This is turning into the greatest disruption to sport — and perhaps modern life — since World War II. And we need the same kind of understanding that these are extraordinary times. 

Soccer doesn’t matter now. It is more unimportant than ever. Cancel all of it.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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