Latest on sport restart plans: Watch crucial government meeting amid proposals for shortened football matches – The Telegraph

A revealing day looms when leading executives from across the biggest sports come before the government’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee to discuss the impact of the coronavirus. Tom Harrison, the chief executive of the English and Wales Cricket Board, Rick Parry, the chair of the English Football League, and Bill Sweeney, the chief executive of the Rugby Football Union, all talk this morning.

The RFU is already projecting that it will lose £50million but the viability of even playing behind closed doors has been outlined this week in a report which says, upon returning for training, players would initially need to observe social distancing of 1.5 metres, wear gloves and face masks, and refrain from making any physical contact. 

The ECB is expected to ask for government backing, with Harrison ready to stress the bleak financial future facing the game unless England can fulfill its 18 international fixtures this summer behind closed doors.

The EFL are also working towards a plan to complete their season behind closed doors, potentially this summer, but there are serious doubts over the viability of playing matches behind closed doors for any prolonged period. 

The DCMS committee will also hear about the situation facing both Olympic sports and the recreational sector when Dame Katherine Grainger, the UK Sport chair, and Tim Hollingsworth, Sport England’s chief executive, will give evidence.

UK Sport’s focus is the Olympics and is seeking two sorts of government funding: emergency help for those sports at risk if the impact of the pandemic continues later into this year, and funding to ensure the high-performance system continues until the postponed Olympics next year. Sport England will also want to state the case for recreational sports to return just as soon as it is safe to do so. Jeremy Wilson

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Bundesliga ready for action

Germany’s Bundesliga is set to be given the green light for a restart, probably from May 15, as part of measures to further ease the country’s coronavirus regulations, two people familiar with the preparations have told Reuters.

German states are set agree on the restart in a teleconference with Chancellor Angela Merkel scheduled for Wednesday, the sources said. Matches would take place under strict conditions – and with no fans in stadiums.

So far Portugal, Poland and Hungary have given dates for restarting their national leagues, all towards the end of May.

Germany’s professional teams have been training since mid-April, divided into small groups and under strict conditions which include extensive testing of all players and coaching staff.

The German Football League (DFL) has submitted a health safety plan for games without spectators which includes regular testing of players but no quarantines for entire squads in cases of positive tests.

However, it says that if a player is infected, decisions on the measures to be taken lie with the local health authorities.

On Monday, the DFL said that it had registered 10 positive cases in a blanket test of 1,724 players and staff at its 36 first and second division clubs. The DFL said a second round of tests would be carried out in the next week and there “may be isolated positive test results”. Reuters

Cricket’s £380m loss

The DCMS hearing has now moved from football to cricket, with ECB chief executive Tom Harrison explaining the catastrophic financial losses that coronavirus could have on his organisation.

We are still working out the impact of Covid-19. We anticipate with no cricket this year a worst-case scenario could be as bad as £380million.

That would be the loss of 800 days of cricket across all of our professional clubs and the ECB. That is the worst-case scenario for us this year.

Horse racing in June?

Meanwhile, some positive horse racing news, with Matt Hancock, health secretary, speaking positively about hopes the resumption of racing in Britain might not be too far away following its suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The last meetings to take place in Britain were at Wetherby and Taunton on March 17, both behind closed doors. The British Horseracing Authority has been making plans for a return when Government is approval is given, with meetings to take place on the Flat and behind closed doors.

Two high-profile weekends have been pencilled in for Classic trials at the end of May, with the Guineas meeting set to take place on the first weekend in June, should a “best-case scenario” come to fruition.


Asked about calls to allow Premier League football again next month, Hancock told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Well, I’m absolutely open to that. And horse racing too.

“And, I know that both the Premier League and racing are working on how this might be doable in a safe way. But that safety has to be paramount.”

EFL highlights

Our man Jeremy Wilson has sent this round-up of events from the EFL section of the DCMS hearing:

On finances:

  • He is calling for a reset of the entire football financial model. Calls model with clubs spending 106 per cent of turnover on wages “ridiculous” and “unsustainable”. Wants an end to parachute payments, describing them as “an evil” whereby six Championship clubs get £40m and the remaining 18 have solidarity payments from Premier League of £4.5m. Says EFL clubs are heading for a financial cash hole of £200m.

On finishing the season:

  • All discussions have still centred on three clubs going down from Premier League and three going up from Championship. Warns it will get “very messy” and the lawyers will get wealthy if Premier League renege on this agreement.  “There would be varying degree of outrage from a number of clubs in the Championship – it would be a breach of the tripartite agreement between us, the Premier League and the FA,” says Parry.

On next season:

  • Parry questions whether the EFL can restart without crowds at all and explains how their whole model depends on fans so much more than the Premier League.

On Project Restart this summer:

  • Parry also stresses need for quick decisions. EFL clubs have furloughed many staff and players. Numerous players are out of contract at end of June. Parry points out that you can’t bring them back to start training now off furlough only to then decide that the season cannot resume.  He sets July 31 as absolute cut off for this season.

‘Evil’ of parachute payments

English Football League chairman Rick Parry has also described parachute payments to clubs relegated from the Premier League as “an evil that needs to be eradicated”. He said:

There is strong opposition to them in the EFL, that’s almost a given, apart from the clubs receiving them. They are a prime example of clubs being protected or helping them adjust to the chasm (between the Premier League and the Championship). But if we didn’t have a chasm in the first place you wouldn’t need them.

£200m black hole for Football League

The DCMS meeting has begun with English Football League chairman Rick Parry first up and warning that his clubs face a £200m financial hole by September. Asked in a worst-case scenario how many clubs might go out of business, Parry said:

That’s a difficult one to answer. We would like to emerge stronger and leaner, with a proper reset post-Covid. We are heading for a financial hole of £200m by the end of September. Clubs are stacking up creditors and there are a great deal of uncertainties.

Parry also said the EFL expected three clubs to be promoted from the Championship to the Premier League, or “the lawyers are going to get wealthy”.

There have been reports that top-flight clubs want to play out the season with the threat of relegation removed, but Parry said it would get very “messy” if that happened and warned it would be a breach of the tripartite agreement between the Premier League, the EFL and the Football Association.

Short football

Jeremy Wilson has delivered a full piece on the news that: PFA chief Gordon Taylor says matches may be shortened if football is to return this summer. You can click on the link to read, and here’s a taster:

Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, has revealed that matches might be shortened to less than 45 minutes each half if football returns this summer.

Taylor said that the players’ union was considering a range of possible scenarios as part of the Premier League’s controversial ‘Project Restart’ plan and, as well as additional substitutes and neutral venues, raised the extraordinary prospect of shorter matches.

Thumbs up from Crystal Palace players

Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish has revealed his players are ready to return to football with the risks of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Parish has spoken to his captain, Luka Milivojević, and his player liaison staff and his players are willing to complete the season at neutral grounds with the protocols to guard against Covid-19. 

He also expects the beginning of next season to at least start at neutral grounds and without fans. 

Paris, speaking to the Football Show on Sky, said: “I’ve spoken to my captain and I’ve spoken to all the player liaison guys and one or two others players. They are all ‘yes’. 

“My players are saying ‘yes we are ready to go’. But I want them to understand – perhaps they haven’t considered what risks there might be, so that is not how it will be led.

“It will be outlined in its entirety to players, for their care and keeping their families as safe as possible. Players will be tested positive under this regime, we will catch players who have contracted this disease in society.”

Parish also believes the impact the pandemic could impact football for up to two years. Mike McGrath

Gone fishing

Allow me to point you in the direction of a piece Jeremy Wilson, our chief sports reporter, wrote for us overnight on how angling is leading the drive for sport’s return from the coronavirus lockdown. Here’s a snippet:

The Angling Trust has submitted a 15-page report to the Government which is fast gathering support, raising hope that recreational fishing could resume within days.

Strict stipulations would include local fishing only, no sharing of tackle, online or electric tickets and a 15-metre (49ft) riverbank gap between anglers.

“The majority of anglers practise self-isolation and social distancing as a matter of course – anglers tend to seek solitude even in normal circumstances,” said Jamie Cook, the chief executive of the Angling Trust.

In its submission to the Government, the Angling Trust also explained that 62 per cent of the sport’s participants identified fishing as their sole physical activity. “For many, this is their only exercise,” said Mr Cook.

Football matches shorter than 90 minutes

Some pretty eye-opening comments from PFA chief Gordon Taylor who has been telling BBC Radio 4 that football will not return before mid-June and matches might not be 45 minutes each way!

Lions on the move?

The BBC is reporting that the British and Irish Lions are open to moving their 2021 tour of South Africa to the autumn to fit in with a new global rugby union calendar that looks set to emerge after coronavirus.

The Lions are currently due to tour the world champions from July 3 to August 7, but moving the Test window to September or October is reportedly under discussion.

Such a move would not only allow more time to recover from the pandemic, but also align with any proposed new international schedule and avoid an overlap with the re-arranged Tokyo Olympics.

Real life sporting action

Big news from South Korea: sport is back.

A new baseball season has begun today, featuring cheerleaders dancing beneath rows of empty seats and umpires wearing protective masks.

The entire thing is taking place behind closed doors with fans not allowed in and pictures positioned in their place around the stadium.

Spectator pictures were strung up across stands in place of real people Credit: AFP

The Korea Baseball Organization has employed various preventive measures to make this return possible. Players and coaches will go through temperature screenings before entering stadiums, while umpires and first- and third-base coaches must wear masks during games.

Players are prohibited from high-fiving team-mates or signing autographs. Chewing tobacco is banned to prevent spitting. Masks and latex gloves will be required at training facilities.

Let’s get this party started Credit: REUTERS

Fans will be barred from games until the KBO is convinced the risks of infections have been minimised. If any member of a team tests positive for the coronavirus at any point of the season, the league will be shut down for at least three weeks.

The country’s professional football leagues will kick off on Friday, also without spectators in the stadiums.

Weighted balls will help cricket’s safe return, says Warne

Shane Warne, the former Australia spinner, has suggested using weighted balls to help pace bowlers generate swing without risking health when cricket resumes after the coronavirus shutdown.

The traditional way of shining the ball by rubbing it with sweat and saliva to generate swing is likely to be discontinued on health grounds when cricket restarts after the pandemic has subsided.

Australian cricket-ball manufacturer Kookaburra says it is developing a wax applicator to enhance the shine and aid swing but Warne offered an alternative.

“Why can’t the ball be weighted on one side so it always swings? It would be like a taped tennis ball or like with the lawn bowls,” the former leg-spinner told Sky Sports Cricket Podcast.

“I’m not sure you’d want it to hoop around corners like Wasim (Akram) and Waqar (Younis) but it could swing and give the seamer something on flat wickets when it’s hot and the pitch is at its flattest on day two, day three.”

Pakistan greats Akram and Younis are considered the foremost exponents of reverse swing, which is generated by shining one side of the ball while keeping the other side rough.

A weighted ball would also pre-empt any ball-tampering, Warne said.

“You wouldn’t have to worry about anyone tampering with it with bottle tops, sandpaper, or whatever. It would be a good competition between bat and ball.”

Warne, who retired in 2007 with 1,001 international wickets, said compared to the bat, the ball used in cricket has not really evolved over the years.

“If you pick up one of the bats you started with in the ’80s, and then one you used at the end of your career, it’s like four of your old ones stuck together – but the thing is lighter!

“So why has the ball not evolved? If anything, it has got worse.” Reuters

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