Sport after lockdown: what does the future of sport look like?
Jeremy Wilson examines what’s next for the return of sport following the government’s latest announcement on Sunday.
Sport resuming will be seen in many quarters as a sign that normality is returning but little in the near future will look much like what we had before.
Virtual darts, where competitors play in their own homes, was one of the first innovations and, while the German Bundesliga is set to be the first big sporting competition to come back from Saturday, there will be big changes. The players must be quarantined for a week before the competition starts, they are being regularly tested and will arrive in several vehicles, so that they can still socially distance by 1.5m, and will be wearing face masks up until they get changed to play.
TENNIS: Pique pessimistic over Davis Cup
Gerard Pique has said he is not confident that the 2020 Davis Cup will take place due to Spain’s restrictions on spectators attending events because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Barcelona defender’s investment group Kosmos paid three billion euros in 2018 to acquire the rights to the sport’s flagship team event, transforming it into a week-long competition akin to a tennis World Cup.
The 2019 Davis Cup in Madrid, won by Spain, was the first to be held in one city and the competition is also scheduled to take place in the Spanish capital in November.
“I’m a bit pessimistic, to have the Davis Cup without fans is difficult,” Pique told Spanish television network Movistar on Sunday.
“There is a lot of uncertainty. We are listening to what the sport’s ministry and the government are telling us about whether we’ll be able to have fans in the stadium.
“There are different opinions and no-one is sure if we’ll be able to have fans or if it’ll have to be behind closed doors.”
Pique added that Spain’s strict lockdown has made it harder to make preparations for the event, although he said his team were continuing to work on making it happen if the government eventually decides to allow spectators at sporting events.
“I think in the next few weeks we’ll have more clarity but right now we’re trying to be prepared,” he added.
“People are working from home and obviously we can’t go to Madrid to look at facilities, we are prepared in case we end up being able to organise it.”
FOOTBALL: Spain aims for June 12 restart
La Liga president Javier Tebas has said he hopes Spanish football will resume on June 12 after being halted for over three months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
All clubs in Spain’s top two divisions began testing players for the virus last week and many including La Liga champions Barcelona started individual training, the second step of the league’s four-phase protocol for returning to action.
Real Madrid resume individual training on Monday.
“I’d like to restart on June 12 but we have to be prudent and it’s not just up to football, it’s also up to society, we all need to focus on complying with measures to protect health,” Tebas told Spanish television network Movistar on Sunday.
Tebas confirmed all matches will take place without spectators, as will be the case when Germany’s Bundesliga restarts next week, and he said the league was working on ways to add to the atmosphere although he did not give details. He also said fixtures would be spread out so that there are matches every day.
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“Now that we are not going to have fans in the stadiums we are going to have some innovative ideas for broadcasting the games,” Tebas added.
“There’s going to be football every day once La Liga returns.”
The league reported on Sunday that five players across the two divisions had tested positive for the virus and had been ordered to stay isolated at their homes. They will not be able to return to training grounds until they have tested negative.
Tebas added that three staff members had also tested positive for the virus but he said the number of cases was far lower than expected, insisting there would be no increase in the risk of players getting infected once matches started.
“We were expecting around 25 or 30 based on the numbers in the Bundesliga and how much the virus has penetrated Spain. Out of 2,500 people tested we have only eight positive cases, which is good news,” he said.
“Infection during a match is practically impossible as we have done a study which we’re releasing which will show there is a minimum risk in matches if we all respect the health measures.”
FOOTBALL: Bundesliga clubs enter one-week quarantine ahead of restart
German teams started the week in isolation on Monday after going into seven-day quarantine ahead of the Bundesliga season restart on Saturday, with club bosses saying completing the campaign amid the coronavirus outbreak will not be easy.
The German Football League (DFL) decided last week to resume the first and second division from May 16 after a two-month suspension, making it the first major sports league to attempt a restart.
Teams have been sent into mandatory seven-day isolation after testing for the virus in order to reduce the risk of infection before playing in empty stadiums with only a handful of staff and officials, to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Several clubs, including champions Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and VfL Wolfsburg, have picked hotels in their cities to cut travel times to training locations and airports for the weekend matches.
Others like Schalke 04, who face Dortmund in the Ruhr valley derby, and Borussia Moenchengladbach are using hotels at their stadiums.
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Bayer Leverkusen and Union Berlin have moved to more isolated hotels in the countryside, as have bottom club Paderborn who will spend the week in a nearby thermal springs town.
Players and staff wore face masks as they departed for hotels where distance between tables at team lunches and dinners will become routine, as will single rooms where players will make their own beds to reduce unnecessary contact with other people.
Plans to restart, however, suffered a setback on Saturday after the entire team of second tier Dynamo Dresden was placed in two-week quarantine following two positive coronavirus tests. “We always expected that the remainder of this season will not be trouble-free,” Borussia Dortmund Chief Executive Hans-Joachim Watzke told the Funke media group. “These tests and results are also a sign of our transparency.”
The league, desperate to complete the season by June 30, has drawn up a detailed set of regulations for training and matches, including stringent testing that helped it get the government’s green light to restart.
But with the virus far from gone in Germany where almost 170,000 people have been infected and over 7,400 have died, the DFL is concerned any positive virus cases could seriously damage chances of finishing the season, and inflict potentially “existence-threatening” financial damage to some clubs.
“I expect everyone now to live up to their responsibilities,” DFL CEO Christian Seifert said at the weekend.
RUGBY: Brumbies return to training in Australia
The ACT Brumbies returned to the training ground in Canberra on Monday, the first of Australia’s four Super Rugby sides to do so after social isolation measures introduced to combat COVID-19 were eased around the country.
Neighbouring New Zealand, which has enjoyed similar success in containing the novel coronavirus, announced on Monday its Super Rugby sides would take part in a domestic competition and Australia is expected to follow suit.
With the resumption of Super Rugby impossible because of international travel bans, interim Rugby Australia chief executive Rob Clarke said last week the governing body was hoping to have a domestic competition in place by July.
There are still some restrictions in place, however, so the first Brumbies players to return on Monday were limited to training in groups of 10 with no contact permitted.
Wallabies prop Scott Sio missed what looks like being the final Super Rugby match anywhere in the world this year — against the New South Wales Waratahs on March 15 — because of a hand injury and has spent the lockdown rehabilitating.
“It was really cool to put the kit back on,” he told reporters via Zoom from Canberra. “I think you draw a lot of energy even though we’re not right next to each other, just from being in each other’s presence there as well.
“It’s a lot of good feel stuff at the moment. A lot better vibes than this time a month ago. I guess we’ll see once we really get going up tomorrow.”
F1: British GP could still go ahead
Formula One is working to put on a British Grand Prix in July even if the country imposes quarantine measures on visitors during the COVID-19 crisis, F1 sources said on Sunday.
The Sun newspaper quoted a government source as saying there would be an exemption for sports, with Formula One and football teams free to travel from Britain and return without restriction once competition resumes.
It said athletes and teams would be expected to undergo a rigorous testing regime and isolate themselves immediately if they tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Formula One sources told Reuters conversations with the government were ongoing.
TENNIS: French Open could be played behind closed doors
The French Open, which was postponed to September from May due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, could be held without fans, the organisers of the claycourt Grand Slam have said.
Roland Garros had been scheduled for May 24 to June 7 before the French tennis federation (FFT) pushed it back to Sept. 20-Oct 4 in a bid to save the tournament from falling victim to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week the FFT said all tickets purchased for this year’s French Open would be cancelled and reimbursed instead of being transferred.
“Organising it without fans would allow a part of the economy to keep turning, (like) television rights and partnerships. It’s not to be overlooked,” FFT President Bernard Giudicelli told French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche. “We’re not ruling any option out.”
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The tennis season was suspended in early March due to the pandemic and the hiatus will continue at least until mid-July with many countries in lockdown.
Wimbledon has been cancelled while the status of the U.S. Open, scheduled to take place in late August, is still unclear.
The FFT was widely criticised when they announced in mid-March that the French Open would be switched, with players bemoaning a lack of communication as the new dates clashed with the hardcourt season.
Organisers said last week they had been in talks with the sport’s governing bodies to fine tune the calendar amid media reports that the Grand Slam tournament would be delayed further by a week and start on Sept. 27.
The delayed start would give players a two-week window between the end of the U.S. Open, played on the hardcourts of New York, and the Paris tournament. “The 20th or the 27th, that does not change much,” Giudicelli said.