Coronavirus hits sport: French football's Ligue 1 season cancelled following Government edict

Ligue 1 has become the second major European league cancelled due to coronavirus, after French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced no sporting events - even those behind closed doors - could take place before September.

Officials had hoped teams could resume training within a fortnight, after plans emerged for the league to resume on June 17 and conclude on July 25.

But the French top flight and Ligue 2 will now follow the Dutch Eredivisie in ending their seasons, due to the pandemic.

"The 2019-2020 season of professional sports, including football, will not be able to resume," Philipe said on Tuesday.

"It will be possible, on sunny days, to practice an individual sporting activity outdoors, obviously respecting the rules of social distancing.

"It will not be possible, neither to practice sport in covered places, nor team or contact sports."

The decision could provide an obstacle for UEFA, who had looked into completing the Champions League and Europa League campaigns in August.

Paris St Germain and Lyon are still in the Champions League, with the former through to the quarter-finals and the latter holding a 1-0 first-leg lead against Juventus in the round of 16.

Domestically, most teams in Ligue 1 have 10 games left to play this season, while PSG and Strasbourg have 11.

The Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP) will reportedly meet next month to make final decisions over how to finalise the standings.

PSG lead the standings by 11 points from Marseille, with one point separating Rennes in third, which comes with a Champions League qualifying berth, from Lille in fourth place and a Europa League spot.

Amiens and Toulouse are in the bottom two, while Nimes sit 18th, a position that would ordinarily put them in a relegation play-off against a club from Ligue 2.

The picture at the top of Ligue 2 is much tighter, with only four points separating Lorient in first place from Clermont in fifth, with Lens, Ajaccio and Troyes also in the mix for either automatic promotion or a playoff place.

Last week, the Dutch Football Association decided not to enforce promotion and relegation to their leagues or declare champions, and opted to award European qualification based on the Eredivisie table as it stood.


Man City players face self-isolation stint 

Manchester City players
Manchester City players Photo credit: Reuters

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola and at least eight first-team players of the Premier League champions could face 14 days of mandatory self-isolation when they return to Britain for the resumption of matches, The Times newspaper reports.

Professional football in England was suspended last month, due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, and the British government's lockdown measures will be in place until at least May 7.

With the Premier League aiming to resume in June, foreign players and managers returning to England are likely to be asked to self-isolate as part of steps to curb the spread of the virus, The Times reports.

The newspaper adds that at least four managers, as well as players from several teams, could be affected.

Guardiola is in Spain, after the death of his mother this month, while eight City players are in their home countries.

Wolverhampton Wanderers manager Nuno Espirito Santo and his coaching staff are in Portugal, while up to five players from the team are not in England, the report says.

Norwich City manager Daniel Farke and Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuettl, as well as some players on their teams and Brighton & Hove Albion, are out of the country.

Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-min began three weeks of mandatory military service in his native South Korea on April 20.

On Friday, Premier League clubs are due to hold a conference call to discuss the options for finishing the season.

Arsenal, West Ham United and Brighton have all re-opened their training grounds to first-team players for individual sessions, as they prepare for a return.


Tour de France likely to limit fans

Coronavirus hits sport: French football's Ligue 1 season cancelled following Government edict
Photo credit: Getty

The Tour de France may have to limit spectators during the first days of the race to comply with a ban on major events gathering more than 5000 people before September.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said major sporting and cultural events bringing together more than 5000 participants could not be held before September, as he announced plans for a gradual end of a nationwide coronavirus lockdown from May 11.

Philippe did not specifically mention the Tour de France, which has been postponed to August 29-September 20 from its original June 27 start date.

"It is too early to say [how this will impact the Tour]," says a sports ministry spokeswoman. "For now, this does not imply a postponement nor a cancellation, but it does not rule out arrangements, notably in terms of the number of spectators," 

The Tour is the biggest event on road cycling's calendar and the sport's most lucrative race by far. It was originally scheduled to take place from June 27-July 19.

That was knocked off course by the COVID-19 pandemic, which had killed 23,293 people in France as of Monday.

The coronavirus outbreak prompted French President Emmanuel Macron to impose a strict lockdown that included a ban on any mass gatherings.

Earlier this month, the International Cycling Union (UCI) pushed the Tour back by two months.

With the ban on mass-spectator events now due to run until September, Tour organisers could have to hold the first three days of the race with restrictions on the number of fans attending.

That would be unfamiliar for an event that prides itself on its unrestricted access for spectators and where thousands of flag-waving fans, some of them in fancy dress, routinely line the route of tour stages.


'The Hundred' debut season delayed

Blackcap Trent Boult was to take part in The Hundred
Blackcap Trent Boult was to take part in The Hundred Photo credit: Getty

The inaugural season of 'The Hundred' is set to be formally delayed at a board meeting of the England & Wales Board Cricket Board.

The fate of the divisive new competition was discussed at a wider-reaching session last week, when all professional cricket in the country was pushed back to at least July 1, as a result of coronavirus.

That teleconference overran significantly and rather than rush to a final conclusion, it was instead agreed that the issue of The Hundred would be picked up again during Wednesday evening's meeting.

Growing consensus suggests that the latter is not only the most realistic course of action, but one that offers the greatest chance of a successful launch, albeit a belated one.

With behind-closed-doors cricket inherently at odds with the stated aim of winning new fans and bringing them into grounds for the first time, and the prospect of overseas stars being either unable or unwilling to travel, there are fears of delivering a watered-down product.

Key broadcast stakeholders - long-time partners Sky, as well as the BBC, for whom the tournament represents a return to live free-to-air cricket - have been consulted throughout the last few weeks, while sponsors will also be up to date on any deferral put before the board.

The precise financial details of putting the 100-over format on ice are unlikely to be settled at this stage, with the ECB mindful that the full impact of the pandemic has yet to become clear, but players who earned six-figure contracts at the autumn draft are set to be hit in the pocket.

More than 180,000 tickets have been ordered already, another pricey hurdle to clear.

But ECB chief executive Tom Harrison is adamant The Hundred concept will not be cancelled outright.

Questioned last week about its viability in a post-lockdown world, he said it was now more important than ever to push ahead and make it a profit-making project.