MEXICO CITY (AP) – Weekend soccer in Mexico is colorful, just like the red and green sauces splashed on tacos and hawked by hundreds of food-sellers who overrun stadium grounds.

The atmosphere resembles a market square, with fans decked out in team jerseys, sipping cold drinks or beer on the sun-drenched terraces of the arenas.

Not this weekend. Not in the lowly third division. Not even in the first division at a storied venue like 105,000-seat Aztec Stadium. And, because of the swine flu outbreak, it may stay this way for a while.

All 176 professional matches will be played behind closed doors, with fans hunkered down at home trying to avoid the deadly outbreak that is suspected in the deaths of at least 160 people in Mexico.

No backslapping camaraderie, no haranguing referees, no screaming for your favorite club.

“It’s pretty strange not to go to the stadium with my family because this is part of our culture to go and support your team,” said Sergio Galindo, a lawyer in the northeastern city of Monterrey and a Rayados season ticket-holder.

Rayados plays at home Saturday against Mexico City club America in the top league.

“I understand the games are going to be on TV in bars and restaurants,” Galindo said. “Because of the flu scare, we’ll watch at home with a barbecue or something – but really, it’s not the same. The game against America is one of the most important of the season. I imagine this is going to hit the club hard on the economic front.”

To help fans deal with the attendance ban, at least six top-division matches – normally seen only on pay-for-view TV – will be available on free channels for those afraid to leave home.

A fan of first-division club Tigres, Allan Garcia said his struggling team will miss the fan support in its match at Toluca. Tigres are in a tough spot, facing the possibility of being demoted out of the first division. Imagine the threat of the Boston Red Sox being sent down to Triple-A ball following a bad season. That’s what could be at stake.

“We’re fighting against being sent down, and let’s hope playing behind closed doors doesn’t hurt our chances,” the real estate broker said. “Usually I get together with friends to see the game, but this weekend we’ll be locked inside our houses. We can’t run the risk.”

Last week, the Mexican soccer federation ordered three first-division matches played behind closed doors. Now, all games are shut down. The fan-ban stretches from nine top division matches to 12 first-division A games, 40 in the second division and 115 in the third.

Mexican officials are suggesting clubs will lose about $2 million this weekend in ticket sales – the primary revenue source for all teams. There surely will be additional losses to food vendors, parking attendants and stadium employees, though the figures have been harder to pin down.

Soccer is not the only sport being disrupted.

A Central American youth basketball tournament was called off. FIBA Americas, the governing body of basketball in the region, said an under-16 tournament set for June 3-7 would be moved to a venue in Central America. It did not specify where.

The Nationwide Tour postponed the Mexico Open golf tournament set for May 21-24 at El Bosque Golf club in Leon, bout 200 miles north of the federal capital. It will be rescheduled later in the year.

“A significant number of lives have been lost in Mexico, which is tragic,” Nationwide Tour president Bill Calfee said. “There are more important things for people to focus on at the moment.”

Earlier in the week CONCACAF, the soccer body for North and Central American and the Caribbean, canceled two events and postponed another. Mexican pro baseball games are being played without fans until at least Thursday, and summer international basketball and volleyball events are under threat.

Mexico NASCAR has been called off this weekend.

AP-ES-04-29-09 1846EDT

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