Tuesday’s news: Sport leaders reveal financial blow of coronavirus at hearing – The Telegraph

The financial implications of the coronavirus pandemic have continued to cause concern among sport’s leaders. 

Although a variety of sports and competitions are gearing up for a restart in the coming weeks, the prospect of the action taking place without fans is an aspect that could leave finances under immense pressure. 

UK Sport have requested £53.4million in exceptional government funding to ensure that Olympic and Paralympic sports do not face potentially “quite disastrous” decisions ahead of next year’s Tokyo games. 

And Premier League clubs are concerned that their key broadcast partners who are fundamental to the financing of the competition will try to renegotiate the final two years of the existing rights deals if and when the next season begins.

Read those stories and more from Tuesday’s updates below. 

UCI sticks to revised Tour de France start and confirms first ever women’s Paris-Roubaix

The UCI has confirmed its intention to push ahead with the Tour de France on the revised dates which were announced last month, beginning on August 29 and ending on September 20.

Other highlights of the new 2020 calendars announced by cycling’s world governing body on Tuesday are that the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana will overlap for five days in October, while there will be an inaugural women’s Paris-Roubaix on October 25 preceding the men’s race.

Credit: REUTERS

Read more from Tom Cary on the revised 2020 calendar here.  

England’s men make significant donation to the NHS

By PA

The England men’s team have made a “significant donation” to the NHS, using match fees dating back to September 2018.

The move, which was instigated and orchestrated by the squad, comes in conjunction with the £PlayersTogether movement involving Premier League players and will go towards the NHS Charities Together.

A players’ fund already exists to support a selection of good causes, with a portion now steered directly towards the under pressure health service during the coronavirus pandemic.

A statement released on the official England Twitter feed read: “Following positive discussions with The FA, the England senior men’s squad are pleased to confirm that a significant donation from their international match fees will be made to NHS Charities Together via the £PlayersTogether initiative.

“This contribution will be taken from a fund already set aside to support a variety of worthy causes using all match fees collated since September 2018. We are also grateful to The FA for committing their support to the £PlayersTogether initiative for the foreseeable future by helping to raise awareness and funds to assist throughout the fight against COVID-19 and beyond.

“This is in addition to the senior women’s squad’s commitment to £PlayersTogether as we stand united as England players behind the nation during this crisis and our collective prayers and thoughts remain with all those affected.”

Olympic sports request £53.4 million bailout to avoid ‘disastrous decisions’

Chief Sports Reporter Jeremy Wilson has this on UK Sport requesting £53.4million in exceptional government funding to ensure that Olympic and Paralympic sports do not face potentially “quite disastrous” decisions ahead of next year’s Tokyo games.

Read that story here.

Aaron Ramsey back in training

By AFP

Former Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey was the first Juventus player to return to individual training at the team’s sports centre in Turin on Tuesday.

Credit: AFP

Cristiano Ronaldo flew back to northern Italy by private jet on Monday night after almost two months in coronavirus lockdown in his native Portugal, and has now began two weeks’ quarantine.

Captain Giorgio Chiellini followed shortly after Ramsey, with fellow Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci, wearing a black face mask, arriving later in the afternoon.

Media outside the Juventus Training Center after Italy allowed Serie A teams to start training individually as the country begins a staged end to a nationwide lockdown due to a spread of the coronavirus disease Credit: REUTERS

Italy’s interior ministry has given the go-ahead for players to return to club training facilities two weeks ahead of schedule, offering a glimmer of hope that the 2019-20 season might yet be saved.

But sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora warned that training in groups must wait until May 18, and it remains uncertain whether matches can restart as the country battles a pandemic which has killed over 29,000.

“A realistic prediction can be made in mid-May,” Spadafora said in an interview with Corriere della Sera on Tuesday, denying that he wanted to call a halt to the season.

“It would be surreal for a sports minister to demonise football,” he said.

“The majority of Italians do not welcome the resumption of the championship.

“But I’m not looking at polls at the moment. Football is an important world in this country, I know it well compared to those who want to give a different message.

“I hope to start again, but the government will decide. We will rely on scientific elements, which are not available today.

“There is no opposition of mine, but the desire to evaluate the restart only if the health of the people within the team group is safeguarded.

“If the government is forced, I hope not, to establish that there are no conditions (to resume), my effort will be twofold – limit the financial damage to clubs and support the whole world of sport.

“Between ordinary and extraordinary resources, we will invest about one billion euros for the sector as a whole.”

Manuel Lanzini: ‘It would be crazy to play football again until there is a coronavirus vaccine’

Manuel Lanzini says a vaccine is needed before play restarts Credit: REUTERS

Matt Law has this on West Ham United player Manuel Lanzini, who believes football shouldn’t restart until someone discovers, develops and releases a vaccine for the coronavirus:

Lanzini’s fellow Argentine Sergio Aguero last week admitted his unease at restarting the season, claiming “the majority of players are scared”, along with Brighton’s Glenn Murray and Aston Villa’s Conor Hourihane.

Premier League players are this week expected to receive a briefing over safety protocol, but Lanzini told Closs Continental: “It would be crazy to play again until there is a vaccine.

“If you tell me if I want to play, obviously, but you need to protect others. I would not start now.”

Barcelona players to be tested for Covid-19 at club’s training ground

According to the BBC, La Liga teams have been told they are allowed to return to training this week after the Spanish government eased some restrictions, which has enabled the league to resume training.

Barcelona say they have been given the green light to test players after having facilities at their training ground inspected, and players will be able to go back to individual work in the coming days. 

Rafa Nadal says 2020 season has been ‘practically lost’

Another story from the wires, this time from the world of tennis.

By Jonathan Veal, PA

Rafael Nadal believes the 2020 tennis season is “practically lost” due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The ATP and WTA tours have already been severely affected by the crisis, with the French Open postponed and Wimbledon cancelled while doubts remain over the US Open.

Officially all professional events are suspended until July 13, but several players have cast doubts over the potential to return any time soon.

And Nadal has become the highest profile name in the sport to do so, suggesting his attention is now on 2021.

“I hope we can return before the end of the year but unfortunately, I don’t think so,” Nadal said in Spanish newspaper El Pais.

“I would sign up to being ready for 2021.

“I’m more worried about the Australian Open than what occurs at the end of this year. I think 2020 is practically lost.

“I hope we can start up again next year, I really hope that’s the case.

“My feeling and I say it sadly, I won’t lie to you, is that we’re losing a year of our lives.

“And at 33, 34 years old, that is more valuable than at 20 when you have a lot more ahead.”

Another coronavirus case in German football ahead of league restart 

By PA

Second-division German club Erzgebirge Aue put its entire squad in home isolation on Tuesday after a member of staff tested positive for the coronavirus.

It was the first confirmed case in the German league’s second round of testing, coming a day before a government meeting on loosening lockdown measures to pave the way for soccer to return in empty stadiums.

Aue didn’t name the staff member involved or say how the person could have contracted the coronavirus. The club didn’t report any positive tests from the first round of testing last week.

All players, coaches and backroom staff will stay at home ahead of more coronavirus testing on Thursday, though German soccer’s restart plan doesn’t require automatic quarantine measures.

Ten people tested positive last week from the 36 clubs in the top two men’s divisions. That included two Cologne players and a staff member. The club did not put its squad in isolation, nor did second-division club Stuttgart, which reported one “inconclusive result.”

The other cases have not been publicly attributed to any club. The German Football League, which oversees the top two divisions, has asked clubs not to disclose cases.

Clubs in the top two divisions have committed to finishing the season by the end of June.

EFL boss calls for end to ‘evil’ Premier League parachute payments

Rick Parry, the chair of the English Football League, has warned that clubs are heading for a “£200million financial black hole” and called for an end to “evil” Premier League parachute payments as part of a radical overhaul of football’s finances.

Read the regulatory overhaul he has called for in Jeremy Wilson’s article on his comments here.

England working on assumption Six Nations will go ahead in October

This is just in from the wires:

England is working on the assumption its Six Nations campaign and quartet of autumn test matches can be played across October and November as the Rugby Football Union seeks to avoid losses of around $150 million during the coronavirus outbreak.

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney said his organisation was looking into testing protocols and how to secure “bio-secure environments” so that rugby can restart in the country.

England has one game outstanding from the Six Nations – an away match against Italy, postponed from March 14. A win could clinch the title for Eddie Jones’ team. It then has November tests scheduled against New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga and Australia over successive Saturdays at Twickenham.

“At the moment, the assumptions are that the remaining games in the Six Nations can be played in October and November and we are still aiming toward that scenario,” Sweeney told lawmakers in a select committee hearing on Tuesday.

On still being able to fulfil its quota of autumn tests, Sweeney added: “We have worked with World Rugby and the Six Nations, and the intention is to schedule those in October and November.”

Sweeney said 85% of the RFU’s revenue comes from hosting men’s international games at Twickenham, so the cancellation of autumn tests and possibly even the 2021 Six Nations would be “catastrophic” in his view.

Motherwell manager says he ‘can’t see’ league restarting

Mothewell manager Stephen Robinson has told Telegraph Sport that he “can’t see [the season] starting back up again”.

“It’s different down in England, they can put millions of pounds into it and spend all that money on tests and facilities but I don’t see that happening here.

“Our season finishes May 31 (on our) contracts, and players aren’t going to play for six weeks in the knowledge they don’t have a contract and might not be insured, with the risk to their health.” 

Since then, Dave Cormack, the chairman of Aberdeen FC, has said he “accepts” that the Scottish Premiership season is unlikely to restart, while Ross County manager Jim McIntyre has also revealed that he does not believe season will finish.

Tottenham to miss out on £10million

Tottenham are being hit very hard by the shutdown and will miss out on more than £10million from stadium revenues as well as facing the prospect of repaying £10m on season tickets. Matt Law has more in this article we’ve just published, with a little bit below to give you an idea:

The loss of revenues is expected to have an impact on head coach Jose Mourino, who is likely to have to increasingly look at the free transfer and loan markets if he wants to make any new signings in the next transfer window.

The NFL on Monday confirmed the cancellation of four games scheduled to take place in London later this year – two of which would have been at Tottenham’s stadium.

Under the terms of their tenancy agreement with the NFL, Spurs can take the catering and merchandise revenues from games played at their stadium. That is thought to be as much as £5m per game, with Tottenham last year converting their club shop into an NFL superstore for the matches.

Bundesliga could restart on May 15

There’s some potentially big news from Germany which might help the Premier League move along with its own plans for a restart, as the Bundesliga provides a provisional date to begin playing games again:

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, according to reports.

The Bundesliga would be the first of the five major European domestic football leagues to resume play after a stoppage in which almost all football has been put on hold around the world since mid-March.

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

Tokyo Games funding

Katherine Grainger, UK Sport chair, is the final person speaking to DCMS this morning. She says her organisation is looking for an “early and exceptional rollover” of money from the Government to protect national governing bodies from Olympic and Paralympic sports.

Grainger said the rollover, which would include a Government underwrite to cover any drop-off in National Lottery funding, would “reassure all sports that funding is in place”.

The current funding cycle ends in March next year, and Grainger is looking for a rollover until March 2022.

Giving the governing bodies that reassurance would mean they would not “need to make decisions which could be disastrous for sport”.

Credit: JULIAN SIMMONDS

No plans to shorten football matches

Our chief football writer Sam Wallace has sent a piece on Gordon Taylor’s suggestion that football matches might be reduced in length when the sport returns. You can READ IT HERE, and here is a taster:

The Premier League has no intention of shortening games to less than 90 minutes and the idea – raised in an interview today by players’ union chief Gordon Taylor – has not been discussed among the clubs, Telegraph Sport understands.

The Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive told the Today programme on BBC Radio Four that shorter games were under consideration if and when the league returned following its suspension in March at the start of the United Kingdom’s coronavirus epidemic.

That is understood not be under consideration and there is also nothing in the proposed health protocols being drawn up for the 20 clubs that says the players will be quarantined in hotels for up to six weeks around the remaining games.

Inequalities in activity

Sport England chief executive Tim Hollingsworth is now up to speak in front of the DCMS committee. He has said his organisation’s Community Emergency Fund for grass-roots clubs hit by effects of the Covid-19 outbreak was oversubscribed.

We would expect 4,000 applications in a year – over the last five weeks we have had 7,500 applications. That tells the story of how clubs are in need of that support.

Hollingsworth referenced Sport England’s most recent Active Lives survey, which showed in the 12 months up to November 2019 that more adults in England than ever were considered active against the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines.

He said it was encouraging to see from weekly surveys conducted since the crisis began that activity levels were being maintained, but was concerned that inequalities spotted in the earlier survey may worsen in the pandemic.

We are seeing people realise the importance of activity to their physical and mental well-being, but we have seen those inequalities maintained and starting to worsen.

Hollingsworth says the lack of activity among those in the less affluent socio-economic groups, and among children, were the biggest concerns.

Nasty numbers for rugby

Here’s Daniel Schofield’s summary piece on Bill Sweeney’s stint in front of the DCMS:

Bill Sweeney, the Rugby Football Union, let the numbers do the talking.

English Rugby’s governing body has already lost £15million because of the lockdown. If the autumn internationals go ahead they will still lose £32m. If they went ahead behind closed doors they would lose £85m. If they did not happen altogether they would lose £107m.

He warned the prospect of rugby not resuming with crowds for another 12 months would be “catastrophic”. If the next year’s Six Nations were to be postponed or played behind closed doors then Sweeney conceded, “we will have to come to government for some some form of support.”

At grass-roots level only 79 clubs have made applications for the RFU’s £5m scheme, which Sweeney found encouraging, but trouble lies ahead. Sweeney seemed to accept that rugby would be “one of the last cabs off the rank” in terms of sports resuming.

At present, the RFU has made £13m of savings but those are shortly about to run out and Sweeney has asked the DCMS to extend the furlough scheme. Around 60 per cent of RFU employees are currently furloughed.

Sweeney does also believe that the current crisis offers the biggest opportunity to rectify “certain fautlines in the game going back to 1994.” He revealed that there has been the “highest level of collaboration” between northern and southern hemisphere unions over creating a global calendar.

Nadal writes off 2020

While the DCMS meeting continues, here are some quotes from Spain where Rafael Nadal has told El Pais he does not expect to play competitive tennis again until 2021.

I hope we can return before the end of the year but unfortunately, I don’t think so. I would sign up to being ready for 2021. I’m more worried about the Australian Open than what occurs at the end of this year. I think 2020 is practically lost. I hope we can start up again next year, I really hope that’s the case.

Credit: REUTERS

‘Clubs will be like airlines’

Mike McGrath has filed THIS PIECE on Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish suggesting football will follow the path of the devastated airline industry without attempting to complete the Premier League season. Here’s a snippet:

Parish believes clubs threatened by relegation are not looking at the overall implications of broadcasters not getting the product they have paid and withdrawing financial support.  

“I genuinely feel people are not thinking clearly about the ramifications if we don’t play,” said Parish, speaking on Sky’s Football Show.

“We will be throwing ourselves at the mercy of our customers. We will be in a position where fundamentally we are airlines from August. That is a doomsday scenario but I don’t have visibility on income past August. I don’t understand why anyone would pay us if we cannot put the product on for them.”

‘Catastrophic’

More from Bill Sweeney when asked what the impact would be if rugby was not able to restart until 2021:

That would be catastrophic, 85 per cent of our income comes form hosting men’s international games at Twickenham

Twickenham is a major asset for us. When you own a stadium it is a major cost and at the same time brings in large revenue.

If this was to be prolonged and the Six Nations games were impacted, then it would be a catastrophic impact on rugby union in England. We would be looking at some very severe situations.

Need for autumn internationals

We’re now onto the rugby section of the DCMS hearing and RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney has said the governing body will lose £107million if the autumn internationals are cancelled.

The RFU has already lost £15million due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the cancellation of November’s games would hurt them much more significantly.

If the autumn internationals go ahead in November, which are key for us, we will still lose £32million in revenue. If they go ahead but behind closed doors that is a negative impact of £85m and if they are cancelled entirely that will be £107m on top of the £15m we have already lost. So it is a very significant loss of revenue and we are doing what we can to mitigate it.

Guaranteed £100m losses

Cricket Correspondent Nick Hoult has been listening in to the cricket section of the DCMS hearing and sent us this:

Tom Harrison, ECB chief executive, warned the game faces losses of £380m if the season is wiped out and hinted at a £100m black hole even if some cricket is played behind closed doors.

Harrison was pushed by the DCMS committee on the ‘gamble’ of launching the Hundred with the chair telling him the “the casino has closed.”

Harrison consistently denied the competition is a gamble, repeating his view it is needed more than ever because of the money it will bring into the game in years to come.

“We need more effort into the Hundred. Cricket will be in a competitive landscape post-Covid 19 and we will need to pull every lever to make sure cricket stays relevant,” he told the committee. He refused to give a number of the losses incurred by postponing the Hundred this season until 2021.

Plans to play behind closed doors are being formulated and as Telegraph Sport reported this morning, Harrison asked for support in putting on those matches. “Should we be able to play a significant number of Test matches it will help mitigate financial losses.” But Harrison warned “We are staring at a £100m plus loss whatever happens.”

Credit: GETTY IMAGES

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.

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. 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.

Credit: REUTERS

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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