RUGBY UNION: Lions tour of South Africa could move from July 2021
The British & Irish Lions series against the world champion Springboks remains pencilled in for July next year but South African Rugby have confirmed there is a “slight chance” it could be moved to align with a new global calendar.
The Lions tour has a planned July 3, 2021 start, with the three tests on consecutive weekends from July 24 onwards, but a mooted change to the sport’s global calendar could see a switch.
“The tour is going on and the time is still fixed on where it is, but there might be a date change,” SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux said in a press briefing on Monday.
“There is a slight chance that, to align with a new global calendar, it might move to either a September/October or October/November window and that is only because if that is the only hurdle of getting the global calendar across the line, we wouldn’t want to be the hindrance to that.”
Roux said a decision on the suggested global calendar shift, which would do away with mid-year internationals, could come as soon as July 1, which would provide certainty on when the Lions tour will take place.
“Second only to the World Cup, it is the biggest thing on the calendar,” Roux added. “The commercial model we have put up as a joint venture between us and the Lions is actually pretty ‘out there’.
“We have thrown away the textbook on it. It is a completely different model. It is a sharing of revenue, logos and IP (intellectual property) and commercial value, and something that in a post-COVID world will help us operate as a going concern.”
FOOTBALL: Serie A makes plans for deciding league if it is cut short
The Italian football federation has approved plans for a playoff or the use of an algorithm with no champion declared if the season is stopped again.
Serie A has been suspended since March 9 because of the coronavirus outbreak. It is scheduled to resume on June 20.
The plans were approved by an 18-3 vote at an FIGC council meeting. Italian football clubs had asked for no champion or relegations unless mathematically certain.
Playoffs are the preferred idea but an algorithm will be used to determine the final standings if matches cannot be held because of time restrictions or the worsening of the pandemic. But there will not be a champion if the algorithm is used.
The top two men’s divisions are the only ones set to resume their regular seasons. The women’s Serie A will not restart.
EFL set for key day of voting as talks on how to end seasons come to a head
English Football League clubs will vote on the framework for ending the 2019-20 season on Tuesday, with the bottom two divisions then set to vote on whether to cut the campaign short amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The EFL board has proposed a framework which would keep promotion and relegation, retain the four-team play-offs and decide the final league tables on an unweighted points-per-game basis.
Two alternatives have been proposed; Barnsley’s scraps relegation in the event of a division being unable to finish, while Tranmere’s involves applying a margin for error to the points-per-game system.
There are then amendments to the EFL framework to be voted on. Lincoln’s calls for a change in how points deductions are applied to the points-per-game calculation, Ipswich’s involves further consultation with clubs on the play-offs format if the season cannot be completed, and Stevenage’s scraps relegation from League Two if the division votes to curtail the campaign.
For any framework or amendment to be adopted it would require both a majority vote among Championship clubs and a majority among the full 71 member clubs.
Most clubs are expected to be represented on the video call by a proxy, and the video conference call is due to start on Tuesday morning.
Leagues One and Two are then expected to vote in the afternoon on whether or not to end the season. If they do vote to cut it short, the final table will be based on whichever framework was approved earlier in the day. A majority of clubs in that division would be required for a motion to carry.
Fourth tier clubs have already indicated an intention to curtail the season, while League One clubs are undecided.
Jamie Gardner, PA Chief Sports Reporter
Jeremy Wilson: TV’s artificial crowd noise proves a winner with football’s armchair fans
An eerie silence accompanied only by the sort of lone shouts you might hear at a match down the local park?
Or the background hum of a live crowd that has grown so familiar to our football-watching experience that just its mere absence feels so startlingly disconcerting?
The answer from this past weekend certainly appeared emphatic. BT Sport’s coverage of the Bundesliga came with the option of artificially created fan noise and a comforting stride was suddenly taken back towards normality.
Credit: Alexandre Simoes/Borussia Dortmund via Getty Images
RUGBY UNION: RWC 2023 qualification format announced
World Rugby has announced the qualification process for the 2023 World Cup in France aimed at promoting a “genuine opportunity” for all unions, the game’s global body said on Monday.
Twelve teams — South Africa, England, New Zealand, Wales, Japan, France, Australia, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Argentina and Fiji — have already qualified by virtue of their top three finishes in their respective pools at last year’s World Cup.
Seven of the eight remaining spots will be finalised via regional and cross-regional qualifiers, while a four-team round-robin tournament will determine the final qualifier.
“The process that has been developed via full consultation with our regional associations and member unions will provide a genuine opportunity for full member unions to qualify for our showcase men’s 15s event,” World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said in a statement.
The Americas and the Rugby Europe Championship will deliver two direct qualifiers each, while Oceania and the 2022 Rugby Africa Cup will deliver one apiece. A playoff between Oceania and Asia will determine the final direct qualifier.
The third-best team in the Americas, the third-placed finisher in the Rugby Europe Championship and the runner-up in the 2022 Rugby Africa Cup will occupy three of the four spots in the final qualification tournament.
The loser of the Asia-Oceania playoff will take up the final spot in the repechage tournament, scheduled for November 2022.
South Africa are the world champions, having beaten England 32−12 in last year’s final in Japan.
FOOTBALL: Wilson staying at Bournemouth
Harry Wilson will see out the season with Bournemouth after signing an extension to his loan deal from Liverpool.
The loan was due to expire on June 30, but with the season extended due to the coronavirus pandemic Wilson will remain on the south coast.
The 23-year-old winger has made 27 appearances for the Cherries this season, scoring seven goals.
FOOTBALL: Clotet leaves Birmingham
Birmingham have confirmed that head coach Pep Clotet will leave the club at the end of the current season.
In a statement the Sky Bet Championship club said the 43-year-old had made his own decision to depart St Andrew’s just six months after being appointed on a permanent basis.
Clotet said: “It’s been a really difficult decision to take because it’s a privilege to be part of the Blues family, but it’s the best step for everyone and it allows the club to continue to move forward with their vision and strategy.
“I’m very grateful to the club, its board and the supporters for placing their faith in me to lead the team this season and to face up to the challenges involved in what’s been a key transition under really demanding circumstances.
“It’s now time for us to focus on the remainder of the season and for the club to continue building on these foundations.”
Clotet joined the club as assistant to Garry Monk in March 2018, ascending to the caretaker role in the wake of Monk’s departure before being given the permanent job in December.
Pressure started to mount on the Spaniard after a string of poor performances, although a run of 13 games unbeaten prior to the coronavirus suspension appeared set to buy him time.
Birmingham will resume the Championship season in 16th place, eight points clear of the bottom three.
Clotet also earned credit for his commitment to the club’s young players, with six Academy players making their senior debuts during his reign, including their youngest all-time player, Jude Bellingham.
Birmingham chief executive Dong Ren said: “Pep will depart with our very best wishes.
“Pep came in as a colleague but he will leave as a friend with our gratitude. He has done a very good and thorough job for us and has been professional throughout, always putting the club before himself.
“It’s a decision that is filled with sadness for us both. We value Pep very highly and we know how much he loves this club. In the meantime, Pep continues to have our full backing and we are all determined to do everything we can to finish the season strongly and give him the fitting send-off he deserves.”
TENNIS: Star names need to play in US Open
British number one Dan Evans says Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have a duty to take part in the US Open in order to help lower-ranked players survive the coronavirus crisis.
The hard-court grand slam is due to begin in New York on August 31, but world number one Djokovic and defending champion Nadal have expressed doubts over playing in it.
Djokovic said that the protocols put in place, including only being allowed one person with him on site, are “extreme” while Nadal currently has no inclination to travel for tournaments.
With tennis being suspended since early March and Wimbledon already being wiped off the calendar, Evans believes compromises should be taken in order to get playing again and allow players to earn prize money.
“If the US Open didn’t go ahead that would be another grand slam they are missing, Wimbledon has gone,” Evans told BBC Radio Five Live.
“This is a point where the players should really come together and Novak and Rafa should be looking to help those lower-ranked players so they get a good pay day really.
“It is not all about money, there is health involved here but if it is safe enough, having just a coach is not good enough reason not to be going to a tournament in my opinion..
“There are obviously people who have just got into the top 100 and haven’t earned for two or three months now.
“It is great what the ATP did with the relief fund but there is nothing better than the prize money of the grand slams for the players to be receiving.”
RUGBY LEAGUE: Super League return edges closer
A Super League return will move a step closer this week with the first meeting of a Restart Group which will look at ways to stage games behind closed doors.
Working groups have also been formed to lay the groundwork for a return of both the Championship and League 1, but the Super League will lead the way as the group – formed of RFL and Super League Europe executives – looks at operational, legal, marketing and media issues relating to a return.
An RFL statement said: “As with the other stages, key factors will be protecting the welfare of everyone involved, and implementing the recommendations of the (Clinical Advisory Group): making sure you have social distancing where you can; and where you can’t, you have appropriate risk planning.
“We anticipate that the Restart Group will also consider stages four – cross-border matches – and five, getting crowds back in our stadia. The same applies to the Championship and League 1 Working Groups.”
Three models have been presented for a restart, with possible dates for the Grand Final on either November 28, December 12 or in mid-January 2021. The standings would be determined based on 22, 24, or 28 games respectively.
It is understood the most ambitious of the plans, the third option with the January Grand Final date, is no longer under active consideration by the 12 clubs. Teams are yet to return to training, with the league still considering how to apply the latest government advice relating to professional sport.
The RFL’s statement said a position statement on a draft policy had been circulated to clubs last week but it is yet to be finalised.
“Key issues include sanitised environments, cleaning venues, social distancing where it’s required, appropriate testing for players and monitoring any symptoms and protocol if we do have any positive results,” the statement said.
“It’s important we consult with our stakeholders – such as clubs and players – to make sure we have buy-in on how it works. Our expectation is we’ll circulate final drafts early this week and subject to any feedback, they will go to the RFL Board for approval.
“It will then be up to clubs to decide when they want to return to train and having all the systems in place to make sure they can do so.”
The league has also set a target of playing in front of fans again as soon as October. No games have been played since March 15 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
FOOTBALL: Merseyside derby decision this week
A decision on whether the Merseyside derby on June 21 should be played at Goodison Park or a neutral venue will not be taken until Friday.
The PA news agency understands the relevant documents were not received until last Friday and the members of Liverpool City Council’s safety advisory group need more time to read them.
Credit: ACTION IMAGES
The derby was one of only two games in the initial rounds of Premier League fixtures published on Friday to have ‘venue TBC’ at the side of it, with all other games in the restart having been given the go-ahead to be played at the usual home venue.
Everton are understood to be happy to host the fixture, where local rivals Liverpool could wrap up the title with a win, if closest challengers Manchester City lose to Arsenal on June 17.
The other match still to be confirmed is Manchester City’s game against Liverpool on July 2.
Revealed: The bitter letters between Manchester City and Uefa in their Champions League dispute
Mike McGrath reveals the discussions that have taken place between the two parties.
City were concerned over information about the case getting leaked to media outlets and wrote to Uefa on three occasions in May 2019, only to receive a curt response from the governing body’s chief investigator, the former Belgian prime minister Yves Leterme.
FOOTBALL: La Liga to use ‘fan audio’ in broadcasts and virtual images in stands
La Liga will use virtual images of stands in television broadcasts with added ‘fan audio’, produced by the makers of the FIFA video game, when it returns to action on Thursday.
Domestic broadcasters in Spain will offer their viewers the choice of a ‘natural’ broadcast of games played behind closed doors with no fans but the international audience will receive only the enhanced broadcasts with added audio and graphics.
La Liga said in a statement on Sunday that the use of technology “will allow matches to be seen in an attractive way that closely resembles how they looked and sounded before the competition was postponed.”
The stands will be “virtualised” and will offer to-scale images of seated fans wearing the home club’s colours. La Liga collaborated with Norwegian company VIZRT on the technology.
“In moments when the game is stopped, this image of fans can be transformed into a canvas that matches the colour of the home team and will carry institutional messages among other offerings,” added the league.
The virtual sound has been developed with video game company EA SPORTS FIFA, in a project called Sounds of the Stands.
“Through this, the audio library of LaLiga official sponsor EA, which was recorded in real stadiums, has been used and has been digitally adapted so that it can be implemented in real time during the match,” said the statement.
“It will be adapted to the flow of the game as certain situations occur, such as a goal or a foul, creating what is known as Atmospheric Audio.”
Barcelona lead the table by two points over Real Madrid with 11 rounds of matches left, after the season was paused in March due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, and the two rivals are braced for one of the tightest title races in recent memory.
The fight for Champions League football is even closer, with at least five teams vying for third and fourth place.
The restart begins with Thursday’s derby between Sevilla and Real Betis, while champions Barcelona visit Real Mallorca on Saturday and Real Madrid host Eibar on Sunday.
“We have made these broadcasting changes so fans can enjoy LaLiga,” said the legaue’s President Javier Tebas.
“We work with global partners to offer a great viewer experience. We are in an exceptional situation, but for us it has been important to be able to adapt and offer a compelling, cutting-edge broadcast to our fans,” he added.