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Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic fights for the ball against Lille’s Boubakary Soumare during the Champions League Group H soccer match between Chelsea and Lille at Stamford Bridge stadium in London in December 2019. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

With sports on hold amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, athletes around the world suddenly have an unfamiliar abundance of free time. Soccer players are juggling toilet paper rolls. Some athletes have posted videos of makeshift at-home workouts. But many of these stars have also turned toward their massive followings to kick-start fundraisers aimed at helping communities affected by the coronavirus.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic — the Swedish striker who plays for A.C. Milan in Serie A, Italy’s top flight — started a GoFundMe for Humanitas hospitals in Italy. In five days, Ibrahimovic’s effort has raised more than $300,000.

Italy is among the countries hit hardest by the coronavirus. The country imposed a national lockdown two weeks ago, but its number of cases and death toll continue to soar. More than 5,400 people have died in Italy, which recently surpassed China as the country with the highest death toll.

“Italy has always given me so much, and in this dramatic moment, I want to give back even more to this country that I love,” said Ibrahimovic, who has also played for Serie A clubs Juventus and Inter Milan.

“It’s a serious issue, and we need concrete help that is not just about a video,” Ibrahimovic said in the minute-long clip tweeted to more than 6 million followers in both English and Italian. “I count on the generosity of my colleagues, of all professional athletes and of those who want to make a small or large donation, according to their possibilities, to kick this virus away.”

In the United States, where the number of cases has climbed to more than 40,000, athletes have launched similar efforts in recent days.

Rex Chapman, the former Kentucky basketball star who had a 12-year NBA career, encouraged followers Sunday evening to donate to a coronavirus relief fund that will provide aid to organizations across the country. Chapman already has a namesake foundation that raises money to help those with opioid addition, which Chapman once struggled with.

“Not long ago I lived in my car for a little while. It took a lot of people to help get me back on my feet. I’m very grateful, very fortunate for all of that help,” Chapman said in a video he tweeted to more than half a million followers. “Going to be a lot of people affected by covid-19, a lot of people in need over the next few months.”

“I want to try to raise a bunch of money,” he continued. ” . . . Let’s do some good. Here we go. This is what I’m here for, man.”

U.S. men’s national soccer team standouts Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie are supporting Feeding America, they announced over the weekend. All three posted videos on social media with similar messages that explained the organization’s efforts, and they also asked their peers to donate.

“I’d like to challenge my colleagues, my U.S. men’s national team teammates, the U.S. women’s national team and any of you guys who are able to donate anything,” said Pulisic, who plays for Chelsea in the English Premier League. ” . . . Let’s stick together. Let’s do this.”

Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry and his wife, Ayesha, began a Facebook campaign for Feeding America that has raised more than $140,000 in five days. Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle donated $10,000 to Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, and others have added more than $7,000 to the effort.

Numerous athletes, including Simone Biles and Michael Phelps, have donated autographed items as part of a fundraising campaign launched by sports and entertainment agency Octagon. A signed jersey from Washington Spirit and U.S. women’s national team standout Rose Lavelle has raised more than $6,000, the highest of any item listed on the site.

Across all sports, many athletes have made individual contributions to relief effort.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his wife, Ciara, donated 1 million meals to a food bank in Seattle, the area regarded as the U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Astros’ Alex Bregman donated 1,000 quarantine food kits to a Houston food bank. Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. then responded on Twitter that, following Bregman’s lead, he would contribute 10,000 meals.

Redskins running back Adrian Peterson donated $100,000 to help seniors and students in Houston.

Organizations have offered help to arena employees left without work during the sports hiatus. Prominent college football coaches, including LSU’s Ed Orgeron and Texas’ Tom Herman, have spoken in public service announcements asking viewers to take necessary precautions to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.


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