Top-level English and Scottish football has been suspended until April 3 at the earliest due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Football Association, the Premier League, the English Football League, FA Women’s Super League and FA Women’s Championship have all agreed to call a halt to competitive action with immediate effect.
A joint statement from the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish Professional Football League confirmed the suspension of all football north of the border until further notice.
The decisions to suspend follow players and staff becoming affected by the virus, or individuals self-isolating as a precaution after reporting symptoms consistent with Covid-19.
England’s cricket tour of Sri Lanka has been cut short, while next week’s Champions League and Europa League ties have all been postponed.
Government advice on mass gatherings in England and Wales has not changed despite the decision on Thursday to move into the ‘delay’ phase in tackling the virus, but the spread of the illness among competitors has forced the hand of organisers.
The Six Nations match between Wales and Scotland in Cardiff on Saturday is still due to go ahead as things stand.
A statement from the EFL read: “The FA, Premier League, EFL and Barclays FA Women’s Super League and FA Women’s Championship have collectively agreed to postpone the professional game in England until 3 April at the earliest.
“This action, which will be kept under constant review, has been taken due to the increasing numbers of clubs taking steps to isolate their players and staff because of the COVID-19 virus.
“The postponements include all matches in the Championship, League One and League Two, as well as all academy and youth team fixtures.
“In addition, clubs are being advised to suspend indefinitely all non-essential activities which include, but are not limited to, player appearances, training ground visits and fan meetings.
“Whilst the EFL board has continued to take the advice and guidance offered by the Government and its health advisors, emerging developments mean now is the time to implement football’s contingency plans in response to the crisis.
“A further update on these plans will be given post an EFL board meeting next week.
“This decision has not been taken lightly, but the EFL must prioritise the health and well-being of players, staff and supporters while also acknowledging the Government’s national efforts in tackling this outbreak.”
The decision means England’s friendlies against Italy and Denmark due to be played on March 27 and 31 respectively have now been cancelled. Wales’ international against Austria on March 27 has also been cancelled, the Football Association of Wales announced.
The decisions have been taken after Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta and Chelsea forward Callum Hudson-Odoi were confirmed to have contracted the virus, with a number of individuals at other clubs self-isolating after developing symptoms consistent with Covid-19.
A Premier League statement read: “Following a meeting of shareholders today, it was unanimously decided to suspend the Premier League with the intention of returning April 4, subject to medical advice and conditions at the time.”
The league’s chief executive Richard Masters added: “Above all, we wish Mikel Arteta and Callum Hudson-Odoi speedy recoveries, and everyone else affected by COVID-19.
“In this unprecedented situation, we are working closely with our clubs, Government, the FA and EFL and can reassure everyone the health and welfare of players, staff and supporters are our priority.”
The Premier League said its aim was to reschedule the postponed matches when it is safe to do so.
The Professional Footballers’ Association is understood to welcome the decision to suspend competitions, with the top leagues in France, Italy and Spain now all in an enforced break.
A UEFA meeting next week is expected to consider whether to delay Euro 2020 until the summer of 2021, while tough decisions will have to be taken on how to complete the Champions League and Europa League competitions in light of players at clubs being taken ill and travel restrictions across the continent.
England’s cricket team had been in Sri Lanka preparing for the start of a Test series, but the England and Wales Cricket Board said all players and staff would now return to the UK.
The ECB statement said: “At this time, the physical and mental well-being of our players and support teams is paramount. We will now look to bring them home to their families as soon as possible. These are completely unprecedented times, and decisions like this go beyond cricket.”
The Formula One season’s start could be delayed until June. The season-opening grand prix in Australia has already been cancelled after a member of the McLaren team contracted the virus, while the races in Bahrain and Vietnam were cancelled on Friday.