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RECAP: Ligue 1 season cancelled
Photo: AFPA blanket ban on sporting events in France until September has prematurely ended the Ligue 1 season and placed the immediate future of the Tour de France and Top 14 in doubt as sport continues to contend with coronavirus.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe addressed the nation on Tuesday to announce an exit strategy from lockdown but while some sectors are due to begin emerging next month, elite sport has been pushed further back.
Football’s Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 have followed the lead of the Dutch Eredivisie by effectively ending the 2019-20 campaign, while it appears inevitable that the country’s domestic rugby tournament will be forced into a similar conclusion.
The announced dates also cause a significant problem for the prestigious Tour, which has already been delayed due to the pandemic and given a new start date of August 29 in Nice.
Phillipe did not specifically mention cycling, but expressly covered events that brought together groups of more than 5,000 people. The Amaury Sports Organisation, which oversees the race, has previously ruled out staging a behind-closed-doors edition.
Paris St Germain have accepted the decision in relation to the league campaign, and could yet be awarded the title given they are 12 points clear with a game in hand, but are currently focused on the Champions League.
Having already booked a quarter-final place, club president Nasser Al-Khelaif has gone on record with an intention to take part in any resumption of the European competition, with the option of playing ‘home’ games overseas.
Derby agree ‘substantial’ pay deferrals
Photo: AFPDerby County’s first-team players, coaches, management and non-furloughed staff have accepted “substantial” wage deferrals to help negate the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the Championship club has said.
Derby captain Wayne Rooney was reportedly leading talks on behalf of his team-mates against a proposal by the club to defer wages of players by 50 per cent and the striker’s spokesperson had said he was not in a “wage war”.
Derby did not give figures but said players had voluntarily agreed a deferral “considerably more than has been reported in the media” and thanked Rooney for his support.
“First team players have voluntarily agreed a substantial deferral…Everyone has been fully committed to help and play their part,” Derby said in a statement.
“The measures have been agreed as part of the ongoing work to protect the future of the club, our staff and the communities we serve, during these unprecedented times.
“The club would specifically like to thank Rooney and Curtis Davies, the Professional Footballers Association’s club representative, for their help and support.”
Derby said players, coaches and staff also made financial donations to their Stay Safe. Stay Fit. Stay Connected campaign, while non-playing staff will volunteer at a local food hub.
‘Clubs don’t want to be scapegoats’
Next up, the Guardian reports that Premier League clubs fear they will be made scapegoats if the resumption of football correlates with a spike in coronavirus cases.
Clubs are reportedly concerned that should the season resume – even behind closed doors – then fans could either congregate outside home grounds, neutral venues, in public or at each others’ houses.
Were there to be an ensuing correlation between the restart of the campaign and positive Covid-19 tests, clubs are reportedly wary of being held responsible – particularly if there is pressure from the government to kickstart the season to boost morale.
Players’ fears over health
A number of Premier League players are fearful about the prospect of endangering the health if and when the season resumes, reports The Telegraph.
According to the paper, ‘many’ footballers are concerned about the potential implications of an early return behind closed doors, and the ramifications it could have for their health if it is not completely safe to do so.
World Athletics create £400k fund for struggling athletes
World Athletics and the International Athletics Foundation have come together to support competitors who are struggling financially, providing a £400,000 hardship fund for the worst affected.
World Athletics president Lord Coe will lead a panel that will assess applications and allocate money.
“Our professional athletes rely on prize money as part of their income and we’re mindful that our competition season, on both the track and road, is being severely impacted by the pandemic,” Coe said.
Premier League tell clubs to recall players for ‘Project Restart’
The Premier League has reportedly advised clubs that they should consider recalling players and staff who are currently abroad as Project Restart gathers pace.
Arsenal, West Ham and Tottenham players have been allowed to return to their clubs’ respective training grounds to undertake individual training sessions which follow strict social distancing guidelines.
However, with the coronavirus pandemic leading to an indefinite suspension of the season, a number of foreign players and staff have returned to their homelands.
But with the Premier League’s ‘Project Restart’ working towards a potential return to football behind closed doors as soon as early June, the PA News agency reports that the League has written to clubs to advise them to think about recalling players should a May return to training become feasible.
One of the key issues is that most of those who are currently abroad will have to enture a two-week period of self-isolation when they return, in accordance with government guidelines.
Any return to training and, possibly, matches, will also be subject to government guidance and a potential easing of the lockdown measures, which currently prohibit people from separate households exercising together.
LaLiga clubs to return to individual training next week
Spanish clubs have been given the green light to return to individual training next week by prime minister Pedro Sanchez.
All football activity has been suspended in Spain since mid-March due to coronavirus, but Sanchez announced a four-phase plan on Tuesday to return to “a new normality” and as part of that, players will be allowed to train individually from next Monday.
“Individual training for professional and federation sportsmen and women and basic training for professional leagues will be permitted from May 4,” Sanchez said in a press conference.
The plan would then allow small groups to train together from May 18, which would be extended to eight players a week later, with competition pencilled in for a return behind closed doors on June 5 or June 12.
PSG considering playing UCL matches abroad
Paris Saint-Germain will look at playing Champions League home matches in another country after the French government on Tuesday decided to end the 2019-20 domestic season, the club’s president Nasser Al-Khelaifi said.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe earlier announced that league sports would not be allowed to return before September due to the Covid-19 pandemic that has hit the country hard.
The French football league is expected to decide in May exactly how to end the Ligue 1 season but European governing body UEFA is considering the possibilities for resuming its Champions League and Europa League competitions.
“We respect of course the French government decision. We plan on competing in the Champions League with UEFA agreement, wherever and whenever it is held,” Al-Khelaifi was quoted as saying by French media.
“If it is not possible to play in France we will play our matches abroad, subject to the best conditions for our players and the safety of all our staff.”
Tour de France could limit spectators
The Tour de France may have to limit spectators during the first days of the race in order to comply with a ban on major events gathering more than 5,000 people before September, the French sports ministry said.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Tuesday that major sporting and cultural events bringing together more than 5,000 participants could not be held before September as he announced plans for a gradual end of a nationwide coronavirus lockdown from May 11.
Philippe did not specifically mention the Tour de France, which has been postponed to August 29 – September 20 from its original June 27 start date by the International Cycling Union (UCI).
“It is too early to say [how this will impact the Tour] but for now this does not imply a postponement nor a cancellation, but it does not rule out arrangements notably in terms of number of spectators,” a sports ministry spokeswoman said.
With the ban on mass spectator events now due to run until September, Tour organisers could have to hold the first three days of the race with restrictions in place on the number of fans attending.
That would be unfamiliar for an event which prides itself on its unrestricted access for spectators, and where thousands of flag-waving fans, some of them in fancy dress, routinely line the route of Tour stages.
Murray calls for patience over return of tennis season
Former British No1 Andy Murray has called for patience and urged tennis’ senior decision-makers not to “speed up” the return to the court amid the coronavirus pandemic.
All professional tennis has been suspended until June 30 while Wimbledon has been cancelled altogether, meaning there will only be two more Grand Slams to play when the season resumes.
But Murray, 32, who has been playing in the Virtual Madrid Open with fellow professionals, says people must be patient and that health and safety must be prioritised.
“I’m sure all tennis players want to get back to competing and playing as soon as possible. But right now that is not the most important thing,” he said.
“First of all, we want to get our normal lives back, just being able to go out, see friends, go to restaurants and have your normal freedoms. And then hopefully over time things will start to allow for travelling and sport will be able to go back to normal as well. But I don’t see that happening very soon.
“But just because it’s difficult not to have sport just now doesn’t mean we have to speed things up. Let’s just focus on getting our normal lives back first and hopefully then all of the countries can sort out the virus properly.
“I’m obviously no expert on this but I assume the danger is when you go back to trying to do things too quickly like avoiding social distancing and then if we get back to international travel, then maybe there could be a second wave of infections and that maybe that would slow everything down again. That’s not what anyone wants.”
Fifa chief doctor ‘sceptical’ season can be finished
The chair of Fifa’s medical committee, Michael D’Hooghe, has spoken of his scepticism about the football season being concluded safely.
European leagues have until May 25 to inform Uefa of their decision as to whether their seasons will be cancelled or resumed. But D’Hooghe says “as a doctor” he believes there would be a “risk” to continue.
He told BBC Sport: “My proposal is if it is possible, avoid playing competitive football in the coming weeks. Try to be prepared for the start of good competition next season.”
“There is a risk and it is not a risk that has small consequences,” continued D’Hooghe.
“It can have consequences of life and death and that is why I am so careful and I ask everyone to be very careful before deciding to play again.
“I speak as a medical doctor, I don’t have to speak as an organiser of matches, but for the moment from my medical standpoint I would be very sceptical.”
Watford open stadium for NHS staff and open maternity unit
Watford have overhauled their Vicarage Road stadium to support their neighbours at Watford General Hospital through the coronavirus crisis.
The Hornets, who offered the use of their stadium to the hospital last month, have made a number of changes with the help of other local businesses to ensure that Watford General have all the space they need during the pandemic.
The executive boxes at the ground have been transformed into rooms for NHS staff to rest and recuperate during breaks, or to use while having to isolate away from family, with beds delivered from local hotels.
The club have also handed over a number of meeting rooms within the stadium for consultations and are set to open a maternity outpatients unit within the stadium.
With such easy access to the hospital grounds via the Graham Taylor stand, the club are also using their kitchens and canteen to help feed the NHS staff based next door.
Hospital staff have been blown away by the efforts of the club, while chairman Scott Duxbury says life-president Sir Elton John “couldn’t be more proud” of his club.
“It is intense and emotionally draining,” said Theresa Maunganidze, a specialist surgical nurse.
“Having that break, to come out here for fresh air, to come to a place that is not a hospital, to chat and laugh and share some experiences and reflect on the day, it has been amazing to have this facility.”
Duxbury said: “I speak to Elton regularly and he could not be more proud of the club. For him to see the values he and Graham [Taylor] set are very much alive and well is something he, and we, should be proud of.
“This reassures me that the values of the football club are stronger than ever. This is not a PR exercise – the staff here have worked really hard over the last two months to implement it. Words are easy, but everything we stand for as a club is being demonstrated.”
Home gym sessions not enough to keep footballers fit, warns physio
Sammy Margo, the first female physiotherapist to work in football in England, believes home gym sessions will not be enough to keep footballers in shape.
Margo, who works with Barnet FC, said there are many variables to consider, including the potential psychological toll the current crisis has had on players.
But she pointed out that while many players may have been doing their best to keep on top of their fitness with the help of their clubs through Zoom training sessions, it is simply no substitute for normal routines and they will need to regain match fitness from playing football.
“They’ll have home gyms so they’ll probably be able to preserve their endurance and they’ll probably be able to preserve their strength but football is a very special skill,” she told the Press Association.
“The only way to get fit for football is to play football. You can’t get good and strong for football just by being in the gym and just doing, let’s say, leg presses. You can get strong but not strong for football.
“That’s the missing ingredient in this whole thing, they can’t do the thing they need to do the most.
“This is a similar story to going back into the beginning of the season but it’s an unprecedented situation and who knows psychologically what’s happened, because they’ve not had the usual team vibe.”
Ligue 1 season cancelled in France as government confirms ban on football until September
The French football season has been ended after the country’s government announced that no large sporting events will be allowed to take place until at least September, even if they are behind closed doors.
The verdict means that the top two flights of French domestic football will not be able to complete their remaining fixtures, while the French Cup final between St. Etienne and Paris Saint-Germain will not be played.
Ligue 1 becomes the first of Europe’s top five leagues to be cancelled because of the pandemic. PSG are currently 12 points clear at the top of the table with 11 games left to play, one more than second-placed Marseille. Toulouse sit bottom, 13 points adrift of safety, with Amiens and Nimes also in the relegation zone, though the latter are only three points behind St. Etienne and Dijon.
No decision has yet been taken over the awarding of titles or promotions and relegations, with reports in France suggesting that the Ligue de Football Professionnel will meet next month to decide the outcomes.
The same goes for European qualification, with Uefa announcing last week that individual leagues will be allowed to decide on a system based on ‘sporting merit’ to allocate teams to next year’s Champions League and Europa League in the event of seasons finishing incomplete.
It remains to be seen what the decision means for Lyon, who are still in this season’s Champions League having won the first leg of their last-16 tie against Juventus 1-0 before the shutdown kicked in.
More than 23,000 people have been confirmed to have died after being infected with coronavirus in France, making it one of the world’s worst-hit nations.
Ligue 1 ‘to be cancelled tonight’
Another major European league is set to be cancelled.
RMC are among a growing number of outlets reporting the French government will announce the end of the Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 seasons in the coming hours.
They add LFP officials will meet this month to determine final league standings, relegation and promotion.
Clubs fight for home advantage as ‘Project Restart’ gathers pace
Premier League chiefs are expected to clash with clubs at Friday’s shareholders meeting over which venues could be used to finish the campaign.
The Premier League will use the fortnightly conference call to present all 20 clubs with details of ‘Project Restart’, including proposals to play the remaining 92 matches behind closed doors at “approved” venues. It remains to be decided if only a limited number of Premier League grounds or entirely neutral venues will be used.
The majority of clubs are desperate to continue playing at their own grounds rather than squander home advantage, but there is a growing acceptance that competition will only be able to resume under the terms of the League’s radical plan.
St George’s Park — England’s Staffordshire training base — and Wembley are considered leading options, although the absence of broadcast facilities at the former would need to be rectified.
The Premier League have also made initial contact with Twickenham about using the home of English rugby, which would be available over June and July if necessary.
Project Restart includes plans to resume competition on June 8 and finish the top-flight campaign by the end of July, in line with Uefa’s timetable for completing seasons.
European football’s governing body have given the Premier League until May 25 to reveal details of their plan, including the confirmed restart date and format of the competition.
The proposals would require top-flight players to return to full training by May 18 and, from today, Tottenham have joined Arsenal, West Ham and Brighton in allowing players to return to their training ground under strict guidelines.
Spurs have made a limited number of pitches available at Hotspur Way, their Enfield training base, for first-team players to train individually, with no more than one player per pitch and a limited number of the squad permitted access daily. Each player will travel independently and arrive at the facilities already in training gear.
Hosting Tokyo Olympics ‘will be hard’ unless vaccine is developed
The Tokyo Olympics are unlikely to go ahead unless a vaccine is developed for thecoronavirus, according to the head of the Japan Medical Association.
Already, the Games have been delayed by a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic and Yoshitake Yokokura called on developers to “step up the pace in producing treatments and vaccines”.
And he warned: “My opinion is that it will be hard to host them [the Games] unless an effective vaccine is developed.
“The global state of infections at that particular time will be a key issue. It will be difficult even if the situation in Japan has become better if infections continue to spread abroad.”
The cost of delaying the Games is set to run into the billions, with Japan set to bear the brunt as well as the International Olympic Committee.
Meanwhile, Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori warned that the Olympics would be scrapped altogether rather than delayed for a second time from its revised place on the sporting calendar of the end of next July.
“No, in that case the Olympics will be scrapped,” Mori said in an interview with the Japanese newspaper Nikkan Sports when asked if they could yet be postponed to 2022.
But he said he was confident they could go ahead as planned. “The Olympics would be much more valuable than any Olympics in the past if we could go ahead with it after winning this battle,” he said. “We have to believe this otherwise our hard work and efforts will not be rewarded.”
Vaughan urges ECB to consider scrapping overseas playersn to cut costs
Former England captain Michael Vaughan has called for a halt to overseas players in the County Championship for the next two seasons in a bid to cut costs.
A financial report on Monday suggested the impact of the coronavirus pandemic could be as much as £85million to the county game.
And Vaughan suggested allowing overseas players in the one-day game only and not in four-day cricket as a temporary solution to cut costs.
He told the BBC: “You have to look at every area where you can save a few quid. Traditionalists will go mad but these are unprecedented times. In the next two years, could you look at not having overseas players for the four-day game?”
Already the first nine rounds of County Championship games have been axed with cricket not set to resume until July 1 at the earliest. And Vaughan suggested another cost-cutting measure would be to cut Championship games next season as well.
“I’m a die-heard four-day and five-day player,” he said. “But four-day cricket costs the game. It is a cost to the game that could, just for a couple of years, be worth reducing.
“If you reduced them from 14 to 10 games, you’d miss the games but I don’t think it would be a huge problem for a couple of years. You could go back to that in two or three years.”
Genge wants new players’ union after virus crisis shines light on major issues
England prop Ellis Genge wants a new player’s union for elite rugby players in a bid to “shake up the rugby scene”.
He credited the Rugby Players’ Association with its welfare work for players but said a new body was needed in addition because the RPA could not be entirely independent with its current funding from the Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby.
He told the BBC: “I’ve had a lot of friends in rugby come to me and say, ‘I’ve been stitched up with this or I’ve been shafted with this, or I don’t know how to approach this. I’ve thought to myself why don’t we have another union the boys can independently contact?
“I am not trying to go against owners or clubs, or the RFU or the RPA, I think we can all work in tandem. But I do think it is time to shake up the rugby scene and look after players – commercially and in every aspect – a lot better.”
The Leicester forward said the coronavirus pandemic had shone a brighter light on the issue with Genge among the players to have been asked to take a wage cut, in his case 25%.
The RPA was set up in 1998 to represent players in England and said the organisation still had a strong future even with a second players’ union.
“We are not making a new RPA,” he said. “I think they do really good stuff with welfare in rugby and they look after people really well. So, I’m trying to put together a players’ union. It is just so people can get really good advice from trusted professionals in those specific fields – around commercial and legal.”
Footballers should be banned from spitting amid Covid-19 spread fears
Players should be given yellow cards should they spit on the field when football resumes, says Fifa’s medical committee chairman Michel D’Hooghe.
The Government confirmed talks with the Premier League are ongoing to get the 2019-20 season “up and running as soon as possible” as top-flight players begin to return to training grounds.
Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Arsenal and West Ham allowed players back to their respective training bases on Monday, while Tottenham’s players will return to training today.
And those players who spit after returning to the pitch should be punished as they risk spreading Covid-19, D’Hooghe told The Daily Telegraph.
The Belgian doctor acknowledged that spitting “is a common practice in football and it is not very hygienic”.
Speaking to the paper, he said: “This is one of the reasons why we have to be very careful before we start again. I am not pessimistic but I am rather sceptical at the moment.
D’Hooghe said football administrators would need to consider punishment via a card due to the need to protect players and staff near the pitch.
It comes as Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden’s department leads discussions on how professional sport can restart should restrictions be eased.
Weekly meetings will now be taking place between medical officials from the major sports governing bodies and representatives of Public Health England.
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‘Project Restart’ latest to resume Premier League season
Premier League football has been suspended since March 13 but Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Oliver Dowden, speaking in the Commons, revealed his role in pursuing a return.
He said: “I personally have been in talks with the Premier League with a view to getting football up and running as soon as possible in order to support the whole football community.
“But, of course, any such moves would have to be consistent with public health guidance.”
Minister for Sport Nigel Huddleston, speaking during DCMS parliamentary questions, said: “All major sports need to look after their staff, competitors, stakeholders and fans, and that includes having an eye to when competition might resume, although at this stage it is not possible to give a timescale when current restrictions will be relaxed.
“Potential conditions in which sport might be return include behind closed doors, at neutral venues and with limited staff and broadcast crew.
“Other considerations would include first responder capacity and the availability of regular testing. We are in regular contact with the sector on what might be possible in the future, but this will be entirely dependent on public health guidelines.”
Some members of the Arsenal, Brighton and West Ham squads returned for restricted training at their respective bases on Monday, while Tottenham confirmed their intention to do the same on Tuesday.
F1 season delayed
F1 chief Chase Carey announced the cancellation of the French Grand Prix but then revealed hopes that the season will get underway with the Austrian Grand Prix on July 5 to kickstart a season of between 15 and 18 races, initially held behind closed doors.
Carey said on Formula One’s website: “Although this morning it was announced that the French Grand Prix, due to take place in late June, will not be going ahead, we are now increasingly confident with the progress of our plans to begin our season this summer.
“We’re targeting a start to racing in Europe through July, August and beginning of September, with the first race taking place in Austria on 3-5 July weekend.
“September, October and November, would see us race in Eurasia, Asia and the Americas, finishing the season in the Gulf in December with Bahrain before the traditional finale in Abu Dhabi, having completed between 15-18 races.
“We will publish our finalised calendar as soon as we possibly can. All of our plans are obviously subject to change as we still have many issues to address and all of us are subject to the unknowns of the virus.”
Carey said that while the first races would be behind closed doors, it was hoped fans could return before the end of the season.
For the moment, the British Grand Prix will go ahead but Silverstone’s owners said that a race “under normal conditions is just not going to be possible” in announcing a decision to keep supporters away from the event.
Silverstone managing director Stuart Pringle said in a letter: “I am extremely disappointed to tell you that we are unable to stage this year’s British Grand Prix in front of the fans at Silverstone.”
Three Grands Prix have now been cancelled – Australian, Monaco, French – and seven postponed – Bahrain, Vietnam, Chinese, Dutch, Spanish, Azerbaijan, Canadian.