() - Venezuela's professional baseball league (LVBP) warned on Tuesday that its 2020-2021 season could be delayed or suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak, furthering complications already added by U.S. sanctions.
Baseball is wildly popular in the South American country, and Venezuelan players in Major League Baseball's (MLB) minor league system frequently return home to play in the LVBP during the MLB off-season beginning in October.
But Venezuela has been in a nationwide quarantine to prevent the spread of COVID-19 since mid-March, and while its total of 34,802 cases is less than many South American countries, the number of positive cases has risen rapidly in recent weeks.
"Just a few months before what would be opening day of the 2020-2021 season, we have the obligation to responsibly advise that the organization of the Venezuelan people's favorite and most-anticipated event is becoming more and more complicated," the LVBP said in a statement posted on its website.
That would mark the second-straight year of disruption to the baseball season in the crisis-stricken South American country, after MLB last year barred players affiliated with its minor league teams from participating due to concerns about potential violations of U.S. sanctions on Venezuela.
The league received an exemption to sanctions in December of last year, but MLB-affiliated players remain barred from playing for two of its eight teams. The sanctions form part of the Trump administration's efforts to oust Venezuela's socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
The Venezuelan government's information ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
COVID-19 has disrupted baseball and many other professional sports around the world. Major League Baseball is playing a shortened season without fans in the stadiums, while Japan started its season in June after a 10-week delay.
(Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Mayela Armas; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)