Coronavirus hits sport: European football leagues set for crunch talks over season completion

Some clarity on how soccer leagues in Europe plan to complete seasons put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic is expected this week, but a mixed bag of solutions is likely, with countries tugging in different directions.

Meetings set for the next few days will study how to resume the suspended campaigns, even though a definitive roadmap will be difficult to find, while the continent remains in the grip of the fast-spreading virus.

UEFA will discuss this season's Champions League on Thursday (NZ time), while the English Premier League will hold a conference call on Saturday (NZ time), with suggestions it is considering re-starting the season in early May to avoid losing broadcast revenue.

One option on the table is resuming the season behind close doors to finish by July 12, thereby avoiding millions of pounds of penalties in their television contracts.

It will also want to settle promotion and relegation issues to avoid potential legal battles, like the one threatened by non-league clubs, whose season has already been curtailed.

In Italy, which has been in lockdown for more than three weeks and has a COVID-19 death toll approaching 12,000, a growing sentiment is that the season should be abandoned.

"Let's think about health now, we'll talk about football later," Fiorentina owner Rocco Commisso said.

German clubs were meeting in Frankfurt on Wednesday (NZ time), with several stark options on the table.

The German football league (DFL) will hear proposals to resume the Bundesliga in either mid-May or mid-June, and finish the season in late July.

Some clubs have also suggested that a 16-day tournament be organised, with several matches each day and clubs playing every two days, to complete the 82 remaining matches - including the German Cup semi-finals and final - by June 30. 

"We should definitely end this season, for reasons of fairness, but also to limit the economic damage," said Bayern Munich chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. 

But the prospect of La Liga clubs in Spain playing every second day was a non-starter for Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

"The scenario we are looking at now is to play a game or two before June 30, so we can end the season in July or August," he said. "We have no problems in doing that.

"What we don't want is to play games behind closed doors or every 48 hours."

Wednesday's UEFA video conference will involve the general secretaries of its 55 member associations, but is unlikely to make any firm decisions.

Instead, it will offer various scenarios, including the possibility of completing the Champions League in July and August.

No matter what is discussed or agreed this week, the only thing that remains clear is that the situation will remain fluid for the foreseeable weeks ahead.


Aid package announced for England cricket

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has announced a £61 million (NZ$125 million) aid package to help the English game withstand the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The start of the English cricket season has been delayed until at least May 28 due to the outbreak, and the ECB is also drawing up contingency plans in case the season is pushed back further.


Aussie rugby players await salary cut plan 

Australia's Super Rugby franchises plan to lean on emergency JobKeeper funding, as the code braces for a three-month survival period, but players remain in the dark on their financial situation.

Rugby Australia will stand down 75 percent of its staff from Wednesday until May 1 as it prepares for a potential AU$120 million COVID-19 hit.

The players' union met with RA on Tuesday, but was again left wanting more, representative Justin Harrison saying financial details requested three weeks ago were yet to be seen.

"Although RA provided no assurances, RUPA looks forward to the opportunity to assess that information in the near future," Harrison said.

Players are prepared to take a hit similar to RA chief executive Raelene Castle's 50 percent salary sacrifice, while about 100 RA staff and those at Australia's four Super Rugby franchsises also face uncertain times.

The NSW Waratahs will reportedly stand down 70 percent of their staff, while the Melbourne Rebels will either stand down or reduce the hours of all their employees.

The Brumbies and Queensland Reds hope to action the AU$750 per week government JobKeeper scheme, announced on Monday, to keep all staff on in a part-time capacity or full-time at a reduced rate.

RA staff are likely to be eligible for the same payment, while they will all return to work, if Super Rugby fixtures, and July's test programme against Ireland and Fiji are given the green light.

"The JobKeeper programme... that's given us the ability to keep, at this point, everyone in a job," Queensland Rugby Union chief executive David Hanham said.

"What I've heard from our passionate staff today is that they want to work and serve rugby, and assist the QRU through this global crisis.

"We've been in existence for 138 years, we're not going anywhere, but I do think, as a code, once we pop our head out of this storm, we have a good opportunity to look at what reform and innovation we need to make our sport smarter, stronger, more aligned and more effective."

Hanham forecast a loss in revenue of about AU$15 million for the Reds in the next 6-8 months.


COVID-19 threatens to impact 2021 NRL salary cap

The NRL players union concedes that the ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic could change the game - and with it, next year's AU$9.9 million salary cap.

But, as Rugby League Players Association Clint Newton points out for his members, it hasn't impacted next year's broadcast deal yet.

Newton's comments come after suggestions next year's cap could be reduced by 40 percent to just AU$5.9 million.

On Wednesday, the RLPA and league office are expected to finalise a pay deal for the players, should the COVID-19 wipe out the rest of the season.

The game's enforced shutdown has exposed the league's financial shortcomings, raising serious questions over the future allocation of its revenue.

And that includes the current broadcast arrangements, which in 2021, enter the fourth year of a five-year deal worth AU$1.8 billion.

"The most important thing is that, right now, the broadcast agreement is secured," Newton says. "Next year hasn't been impacted at the moment by the coronavirus. 

"Ultimately, we know around 65 percent of the game's revenue is generated through broadcast, which equates to about AU$350 million or whatever."

But Newton admits the virus' impact could result in other consequences.

"We know that there might be a downturn in other additional revenues, through sponsorship and whatnot," he said.

"As far as the whole amount is concerned, we just need to be able to have a good understanding of what's coming in and what is the players' share of that."

The union is currently fighting for full access to the game's finances, to have a greater say in how the funds are allocated.

Newton suggests some operational costs could be redistributed to clubland.

"They might be able to pick up a greater level of responsibility, so therefore their funding might increase and the game might not have to hold as much at the centre.

"That's all part of the process from here.

"I think we've got a really good opportunity to deconstruct their current model and look at how we might be able to better utilise some of the funds."