Daily rugby fixtures at one venue and footballers training solo: Sport’s plan to return – Daily Mail

There is increasing optimism that action could resume in the United Kingdom and across Europe in the coming weeks as lockdown restrictions are cautiously relaxed.

Of course, any sporting events that do take place in the coming weeks and months would be behind closed doors and with strict hygiene guidelines in place.

But there are encouraging signs now that sport, in some form, could soon be back with us. Here, Sportsmail’s reporters take a look at the plans being put in place for sport’s return.

Maro Itoje (R) and Saracens have already been relegated with Newcastle taking their place

Rugby Union

Matt Hughes – Chief Sports Reporter

Club rugby bosses are working on a radical plan to complete the Premiership season, with matches played on every day of the week at one venue, including several on the same day.

PRL chief executive Darren Childs set rugby the challenge of being the first sport to return after the shutdown and has helped design an ambitious made-for-TV schedule which would see all clubs play twice a week throughout July, with every game shown live on BT Sport.

The key is for all remaining matches to be held at one ground with the players accommodated on site.

Twickenham and Wasps’ Ricoh Arena are the most suitable as they have hotels attached, although the cost of hiring them out for a prolonged period may prove prohibitive.

The key is for all remaining matches to be held at one ground, such as Twickenham

The Marriott at Twickenham is far bigger than the Hilton at the Ricoh, with 156 rooms to 80, while there is also more space around the ground to accommodate broadcast crews and to maintain social distancing.

With nine regular-season rounds left followed by a two-week play-off programme, PRL want the remaining 54 matches completed in five weeks — which would require 12 games to be staged each week.

While the Rugby Players Association have concerns, they accept that PRL are grappling with extraordinary circumstances and are preparing to issue guidance to clubs about utilising their entire squads, as well as holding talks about introducing caps on minutes played.

Most clubs are hoping to return to training on June 1 with matches at the end of the month.

Premiership rights-holders BT Sport have been in on the talks and are enthusiastic about rugby returning behind closed doors in a made-for-TV spectacular.

Exeter were five points clear at the top of the Premiership when the season came to a halt

They have indicated a willingness to televise every game, with up to three on any day.

All the plans are provisional and dependent on the support of Government and availability of Covid-19 testing kits.

The RFU have abandoned all leagues below the Premiership, but are working closely with the top-flight clubs. Saracens have already been relegated with Newcastle taking their place — but the title and European qualification remain up for grabs.

Formula One 

Jonathan McEvoy 

Formula One became the first major sport on Monday to announce its proposed comeback date — July 5, in Austria. 

The bold target was set by chief executive Chase Carey, who was keen to staunch the negativity of 10 postponements or cancellations since coronavirus caused the Australian Grand Prix to be called off in mid-March. 

Carey said he was ‘increasingly confident’ the season would start in the summer. He said: ‘We’re targeting racing in Europe through July, August and the beginning of September, with the first in Austria.

Formula One has announced that it is planning to start its 2020 season on July 5 in Austria

‘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 and 18 races. We will publish our finalised calendar as soon as we can.

‘We expect the early races to be without fans but hope they will be part of our events as we move forward.’

Sportsmail understands:

  • Austria’s Red Bull Ring will hold back-to-back races on July 5 and 12 before the first of two races at Silverstone on July 19. The second British race will probably come after a week’s break, on August 2. The first of the Silverstone races is expected to be officially called the British Grand Prix. A name for the other is yet to be decided.
  • Spain and Hungary are being looked into as locations for the next races in August.
  • Australia and Monaco are the only two countries of the original 22 whose races are definitely off. The French Grand Prix was cancelled on Monday but the Paul Ricard circuit could yet host an event under a different name.

F1 chief Chase Carey is optimistic racing will take place at Austria’s Red Bull Ring in July

  • As well as fans being excluded from all the early rounds, each team will cut their numbers down to essential racing staff — about 60. TV rights-holders will broadcast the races, although with minimal staff on site.
  • The travelling party will be tested for coronavirus before flying and/or on arrival. F1 will charter special planes, with race personnel staying together in nominated hotels.
  • F1 will cover the costs of circuits, such as Silverstone, that rely on ticket sales to stay afloat. Others, such as Abu Dhabi, Vietnam, China and Russia, who derive prestige from F1, are expected to pay their hosting fees as usual.


Sami Mokbel and Kieran Gill

Arsenal opened the doors to their London Colney base for the first time in 47 days on Monday as English football took its first, nervous steps towards normality. Of course, there was nothing normal about the training — it was voluntary, there were staggered arrivals, individual sessions, no showers and no post-training meal-time.

Arsenal insisted players arrived in their training gear because the dressing rooms were off limits, as were the showers and canteen.

There were no hugs or handshakes, with each player designated their own parking space, pitch and footballs.

There are 10 pitches at London Colney and only five players trained at one time meaning they were separated by an entire pitch. Sessions were led by fitness and conditioning coach Shad Forsythe and his staff. Manager Mikel Arteta and his coaches were not present.

Players were given their own balls to train with as the club went to extreme lengths to minimise the threat of infection.

West Ham are allowing players to return to their training ground, too, but will implement a one in, one out policy at their Rush Green base. Players who live in apartments and have limited access to open spaces are being granted access to work out on the training pitches. A deep clean of Rush Green took place ahead of West Ham inviting players to return as the Premier League’s ‘Project Restart’ ramps up.

A West Ham spokesperson said: ‘Access will be limited to one player at a time and all sessions will be in line with Government guidelines around social distancing, with everyone’s safety and wellbeing of paramount importance. Players will travel alone, conduct their tailored programmes and return home. No one will be granted access to the main building.’

West Ham’s players will be allowed to train at Rush Green but on a one in, one out basis

Brighton and Tottenham have also reopened their training grounds for individual player workouts.

As Sportsmail revealed last week, Premier League doctors, in a collaborative initiative, are in talks to create stringent protocols for clubs to follow once they return to group training. A detailed dossier will be presented to clubs for discussion at the next Premier League shareholders’ meeting on Friday.

The Premier League will also keep a close eye on the Bundesliga and its scheduled return to action on May 9 to see what lessons can be learned about the restart.

In Germany they will test players twice a week. Games will be behind closed doors, body temperatures will be taken and social distancing will be enforced.

Detailed plans have been drawn up for the return of Germany’s Bundesliga early next month


Marcus Townend – Racing Correspondent

Horseracing can present a strong case for being one of the first sports to return under restrictions. It is a non-contact sport, with racecourses offering large sites allowing social distancing. Flat horses have been kept ticking over ready to resume.

Racing in Australia, Hong Kong and some parts of the US has continued and restarts have been pencilled in for Germany (May 1) and France (May 11).

The Resumption of Racing Group has drawn up a range of models but there will be no jump racing until July 1 at the earliest. The most restricted plan involves racing being staged at tracks with hotels — Lingfield and Newcastle possibly — with jockeys and officials staying on site while each races over a series of days.

Newmarket, with a horse and jockey population on its doorstep, has also figured.

Ways to test jockeys are still being finalised with BHA chief medical officer Jerry Hill expected to speak to Government officials this week. Medical staff and ambulance support will primarily be sourced from the private sector.

Racing will return in Germany at the start of May and could see the rest of Europe soon follow

In Australia, the weighing room routine has been dispensed with and riders are being kept apart or changing in small groups.

Inexperienced riders will not be able to take part, to reduce the risks of accidents. No owners will be allowed on track to start with. It will be a groom and trainer or his representative per horse.

It is hoped three meetings a day can be staged. Field sizes will be limited to 12 runners but there could be 10 race cards operating seven days a week.

Provisional plans have been made to run the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas at the start of June and the Derby and Oaks in July, possibly on the same day. Royal Ascot behind closed doors, starting on June 16, is still the plan while the season will be extended.

Prize money will be reduced — it has been halved in Australia — because there is no gate money or hospitality spend.

But with 70 per cent of bets now placed online, the sport will be earning Levy when it returns. Broadcast cameras will be allowed at tracks but presenter numbers could be limited, with punditry done from a studio.

The plan is still for Royal Ascot to take place behind closed doors, starting on June 16


Derek Lawrenson – Golf Correspondent

PGA Tour officials in America are grappling with an enormous list of logistical scenarios before the planned resumption in Texas on June 11. 

What happens, for example, if the third-round leader of the Colonial Invitational in Dallas tests positive for Covid-19? Is it just him who forgoes the final round to self-isolate, or will the tournament be abandoned?

The plan is to begin with four events in a row without fans, with the tour moving from the Lone Star state to South Carolina, then up north to Connecticut and on to Detroit. But with virtually every state in America under varying quarantine laws and travel restricted, how easy it will be for people to get from one event to the next is unclear.

Jordan Spieth and Co look set to take to the fairways again in mid-June at an event in Texas

Each week it is estimated that at least 750 people will be required on site and mass testing will clearly be critical.

Tour players may be sent a home test kit, be tested once again at the host hotel and then on-site before or after every round. Other protocols to be decided include whether flag sticks can be removed — a foam noodle can be inserted to stop the ball falling to the bottom of the hole — and what happens with bunker rakes.

It will be interesting to see who turns up. You’d imagine most players will be keen to play, but the likes of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy might want to see how one or two events work in practice before getting involved.

The European Tour, due to return with the British Masters at Close House, Newcastle, on July 30 will be watching what happens in America with keen interest.

Stars like Tiger Woods might want to see how events work in practice before getting involved


Paul Newman – Cricket Correspondent

Such is cricket’s expertise in the battle to return to business that two of the leading figures in the sport’s crisis-management have been co-opted to help the wider cause. 

David Mahoney, chief operating officer of the ECB, and chief medical officer Nick Peirce are leading a working group across all UK sports presenting a plan to Government. They hope, in cricket’s case, this will lead to a return for international action in early July.

English cricket is doing all it can to get Test series against the West Indies and Pakistan played in ‘bio-secure’ grounds. That is being overseen by former bowler Steve Elworthy, the ECB’s director of events. The Ageas Bowl and Old Trafford are seen as the grounds best equipped, probably with a series each, as both have on-site hotels where teams, officials and broadcasters can stay.

English cricket a return for international action in early July with games in bio-secure grounds

There would also be coronavirus testing checkpoints and isolation units, with Elworthy believing the usual figure of 1,500 working on a normal international match-day could be reduced to 350.

‘There’s a long way to go and that’s why we’re not designating dates,’ said Tom Harrison of the ECB. ‘We haven’t got enough information or Government support to go that far. This is an optimistic view of how things might work out but it’s one we can plan towards.’

The six Tests — plus white-ball action against Pakistan, Australia and Ireland — will be prioritised for cash reasons, with the possibility of a domestic cricket wipe-out.


Mike Dickson – Tennis Correspondent

If you count big-name stars sitting at home, playing video games against each other, then tennis made its comeback on Monday. Yet while the virtual Madrid Open began — with the likes of Andy Murray ‘in action’ — the return of the real stuff is a speck of light in the distance.

The international nature of the professional game, such a strength in normal times, has become its biggest weakness as the sport’s fractured leadership try to plot a way forward.

Plans for behind-closed-doors exhibitions have been quick to emerge and the first is expected to be a series of matches between players from outside the top 100 in the south west of Germany at the start of May. 

Italy beat South Korea in a Davis Cup tie played behind closed doors in Cagliari last month

Meanwhile, Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’ coach, has already assembled some higher-ranked performers, such as Belgium’s David Goffin, to kick off the ‘Ultimate Tennis Showdown’ from May 16, which will be live-streamed from his Nice academy.

These will be subject to social distancing rules and have no ball-kids and only a chair umpire. The sport’s Integrity Unit will be watching closely.

There are also plans, still vague, for spectator-free exhibition events in the UK this summer. With the BBC formulating big ideas for a virtual Wimbledon, it is conceivable that some kind of match could yet take place at SW19 during the ghost fortnight.

In the UK, recreational tennis ought to be among the first sports back as lockdown restrictions are eased. When the pros will get to hit balls in anger at big events remains shrouded in uncertainty.

The coronavirus has seen Wimbledon cancelled for the first time since the Second World War

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