Mar 20, 2020 - Sports

Coronavirus travel bans could strand foreign athletes in U.S. sports leagues

Data: Axios reporting; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Axios reporting; Chart: Axios Visuals

American sports leagues have become increasingly global over the last couple decades, which is inarguably a boon to business and fans alike.

Why it matters: The global nature of American professional sports represents our shrinking world, increased diversity and the melting pot of cultures that this country was built on, but right now, as with everything else, it's hard not to look at this through the lens of the coronavirus.

  • How many players in the three major leagues most impacted by this — the NBA, NHL and MLB — are stuck, thousands of miles from their families, wondering when they'll see them next?

Driving the news: The NBA and NBPA have issued a memo telling players that they are barred from traveling outside North America.

  • The NHL and MLB have not, to this point, enacted similar bans, as both leagues trailed the NBA in discovering players who'd tested positive.

The NBA (491 players) has the highest percentage of Americans, but also the greatest global reach, despite being the smallest of the three leagues:

  • U.S.: 363 players (73.9%)
  • Canada: 21 (4.3%)
  • France: 13 (2.6%)
  • Australia: 7 (1.4%)
  • Serbia, Germany, Croatia: 6 (1.2% each)
  • Turkey, Spain, Latvia: 4 (0.8% each)
  • Slovenia, Nigeria, Italy, Greece, Brazil: 3 (0.6% each)
  • 11 countries: 2 (0.4% each)
  • 20 countries: 1 (0.2% each)

MLB (1,192 players) just barely trails the NBA in terms of American representation:

  • U.S.: 822 players (69%)
  • Dominican Republic: 150 (12.6%)
  • Venezuela: 91 (7.6%)
  • Cuba: 28 (2.3%)
  • Puerto Rico: 23 (1.9%)
  • Mexico: 16 (1.3%)
  • Canada: 11 (0.9%)
  • Colombia: 9 (0.8%)
  • Japan, Panama: 8 (0.7% each)
  • Curaçao: 6 (0.5%)
  • South Korea: 4 (0.3%)
  • Four countries: 2 (0.2% each)
  • Eight countries: 1 (0.1% each)

The NHL (731 players), as you could have guessed, has by far the largest non-American contingent:

  • Canada: 305 players (42%)
  • U.S.: 201 (27.5%)
  • Sweden: 83 (11.4%)
  • Russia, Finland: 35 (4.8% each)
  • Czech Republic: 32 (4.4%)
  • Switzerland: 10 (1.4%)
  • Denmark: 8 (1.1%)
  • Germany: 6 (0.8%)
  • Latvia: 4 (0.5%)
  • France, Austria: 3 (0.4% each)
  • Six countries: 1 (0.1% each)

The bottom line: Maybe a couple hundred homesick athletes doesn't move the needle for you in the same way that a shortage of ventilators, tests and answers does, but while fans clamor for their favorite leagues to start back up again, it's important to remember what the athletes are going through, too.

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