The COVID-19 outbreak, or coronovirus as it is more commonly known, has finally had an impact on MotoGP.
Today, the FIM and Dorna announced that the MotoGP race at Qatar has been canceled, while the Moto2 and Moto3 races are due to go ahead.
The cancellation is due to restrictions imposed by Qatar on travelers coming from Italy and Japan. With so many members of the paddock – riders, engineers, mechanics, journalists, and other team staff – from those two countries, it would have been almost impossible for MotoGP to race there.
At first sight, this seems an odd decision. Why would only the MotoGP race be canceled, instead of all three classes? The reason is simple: the Moto2 and Moto3 classes are already in Qatar for their final preseason test, which completed today.
The issue with Qatar is not fear of contagion, but restrictions on travel from Italy and Japan. Almost the entire Moto2 and Moto3 grid, plus most team members, are already in Qatar, and nobody was planning to return to Europe between the test and the race.
There are no insurmountable obstacles to holding the Moto2 and Moto3 races at the Losail International Circuit.
But this is likely to be just a foretaste of what is to come. If Qatar is canceled, then the next race, at Buriram in Thailand, could pose a problem. There are currently no travel restrictions in place entering Thailand, but this could change quickly.
There is also the small matter of packing up the MotoGP bikes, which are all currently sitting ready to race in Qatar, and shipping them to Thailand.
Several Japanese and Italian engineers stayed on between the test and the race, as there was some fear that travel restrictions could be imposed, but there could be teams with no one to pack their stuff up for them.
Dorna could choose to postpone Thailand until September – there are already reports that this is likely – which would mean the season starts for MotoGP at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, on April 5th.
Even this could be problematic: the US has just raised the travel warning level for Italy, advising against all non-essential travel. It is not unthinkable that the US government decides to impose similar travel restrictions on visitors from Italy and Japan.
Underlying all of these assumptions is the basic problem that the extent of the epidemic is still unknown, nor how far it will spread.
The fate of MotoGP, and indeed, all sporting and mass-entertainment events, will be dictated by the spread of the disease, and decisions by governments and international authorities on how to handle it. Until then, we wait.