Coronavirus hits sport: German Bundesliga football clubs resume training amid pandemic

Bundesliga clubs were allowed to return to team training on Tuesday morning (NZ time), with some opting to train players in small groups, amid strict measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Football in the country has been suspended for almost a month and the German Football League (DFL) has said the ban will remain in place for the top divisions until at least April 30.

But clubs were given the all-clear to resume training this week, with champions Bayern Munich deciding to train players in small groups to minimise the risk of infection.

"Obviously, all health guidelines are being adhered to," the club said. "Obviously, the training is closed to the public.

"FC Bayern are asking fans to continue following guidelines and please do not come to the team's training centre."

Germany has seen the number of infected people rise above 100,000 this weekend and nearly 1,600 have died, after testing positive for the virus that has forced the country into lockdown.

Despite the training resumption, the DFL made it clear last week it was not known if or when the season would resume, and the stop in play has also had major financial effects on clubs.

Two weeks ago, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern, RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen came together to create a 20 million euros (NZ$36 million) solidarity fund to help clubs in the top two tiers.

Dortmund have also provided part of their Signal Iduna Park stadium for the treatment of suspected virus cases.


Liverpool reverse staff furlough decision

Liverpool have reversed their decision to furlough some of their non-playing staff and apologised to fans.

The club said over the weekend they had furloughed some of their non-playing staff due to the COVID-19 pandemic and were holding talks about the prospect of salary deductions for players and senior staff.

The decision was made after the Premier League was suspended last month and, with no clear date for when it can resume, the club said they intended to apply to the British government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, to reclaim a percentage of the wages.

"We believe we came to the wrong conclusion last week to announce that we intended to apply to the Coronavirus Retention Scheme and furlough staff due to the suspension of the Premier League football calendar, and are truly sorry for that," chairman Peter Moore said.

"Our intentions were, and still are, to ensure the entire workforce is given as much protection as possible from redundancy and/or loss of earnings during this unprecedented period.

"We are therefore committed to finding alternative ways to operate while there are no football matches being played that ensures we are not applying for the government relief scheme."

Premier League players and managers have been criticised for not taking pay cuts during the league's suspension while the clubs' staff, who earn a fraction of their wages, are furloughed.

The players' union, the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA), has yet to agree to a cut and argued after a meeting with the Premier League on Saturday that reduced wages would lower tax revenue for the National Health Service.


British Open off but US Majors reschedule

Three of the four golf Majors have announced new dates for 2020 amid the coronavirus crisis, while the oldest of the lot, the British Open, confirmed it would cancel its event for the year.

Tiger Woods will defend his Green Jacket at the Masters Tournament in November at the conclusion of a radically altered schedule in light of the global pandemic.

The PGA Championship, postponed from May, will kick-off the new-look major season August 6 at Harding Park, San Francisco, filling a date made available by the postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games.

And the US Open, the last Major to announce a change amid the coronavirus crisis, moves from June to September 17 at Winged Foot Golf Club in New York.

That will also act as the tune-up event for the biennial Ryder Cup where team Europe will defend the trophy against the US at Whistling Straits, Wisconsin, on unchanged dates of September 25 through 28.

The Masters will then be the last, rather than first, major of the year November 12-15 at Augusta National Golf Club.

The revised dates for the three US-based majors were announced shortly after the 2020 Open Championship was cancelled completely.

The 149th edition of golf's oldest Major will be held at Royal St George's in July next year, the governing R&A said.

The decision was made on guidance from the UK Government, the health authorities, public services and advisors.

It is the first time since World War II that the Open, first played in 1860, has been cancelled.

"Obviously I'm disappointed that I won't get to defend the Open Championship this year but I feel the R&A have made the right decisions based on people's health and safety," title-holder Shane Lowry tweeted.

There has been an immediate knock-on effect to the Open rota with the 150th Championship now being held at the St Andrews Old Course in 2022 rather than 2021.

"Our absolute priority is to protect the health and safety of the fans, players, officials, volunteers and staff involved in The Open," said R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers.

The cancellation of the Open follows that of Wimbledon.

Only the Formula One British Grand Prix remains in place on the British sporting calendar for the summer, on July 19, with a decision on whether it can take place expected by the end of the month.

And football across the United Kingdom is suspended until at least May with debate ongoing about whether it is possible to conclude the current season.


Coronavirus claims Guardiola's mother

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola Photo credit: Reuters

The mother of Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has died, after contracting coronavirus.

The English Premier League club has announced Dolors Sala Carrio passed away at the age of 82 in Manresa, Barcelona.

"Everyone associated with the club sends their most heartfelt sympathy at this most distressing time to Pep, his family and all their friends," the club said.

Last month, City boss Guardiola, who is one of four siblings, donated one million euros to aid the fight against coronavirus in Spain, after returning home during the Premier League shutdown.

Spain has suffered one of the worst outbreaks of the virus in Europe.

According to the latest numbers from Johns Hopkins, Spain has had 135,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 - second only to the United States - and more than 13,000 deaths, second only to Italy, which has suffered almost 16,000.

Last week, as part of the club's Cityzens At Home initiative, Guardiola recorded a video, urging fans to stay at home, and to follow the advice of scientists, doctors and nurses.


Tottenham star to begin military service

Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-min will begin mandatory military service in his native South Korea, while the Premier League remains suspended, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Son, who returned to South Korea at the end of March, is currently in quarantine and will begin service later this month.

The 27-year-old, who has been sidelined since he fractured his hand in February, was originally meant to serve 21 months, but earned an exemption, when he led South Korea to gold at the 2018 Asian Games.

"The club can confirm that Son Heung-Min will commence his mandatory military service in South Korea this month," Spurs said.

"Our medical staff are in regular contact, as he concludes his recovery, after fracturing his arm in our 3-2 win against Aston Villa on February 16, and continues to train."

Tottenham, who were eighth in the league table when the season was suspended, said Son would return to London, after his military service in May.


England boss takes pay cut 

Gareth Southgate
Gareth Southgate Photo credit: Reuters

England manager Gareth Southgate has agreed to a 30 percent wage reduction in response to the coronavirus outbreak that has brought football to a shuddering halt.

English Football Association chief executive Mark Bullingham said the lack of international matches and FA Cup games would cost the country's football governing body more than NZ$200 million.

"In the spirit of those on higher salaries taking the greater responsibility, the senior management team have agreed to cut their pay by 15 percent, with the highest earners in the organisation agreeing to reduce their pay by up to 30 percent," Bullingham said.

"We are proposing that all employees earning NZ$100,000 or more will take a temporary pay reduction of 7.5 percent," he said, adding that the FA could lose more than NZ$305 million in revenue, if the situation does not stabilise soon.

"We're also looking into what options are available to us through the government's furlough scheme as a contingency plan, while we continue to plan for the return of football, once it is safe to do so."

The Times reported that Southgate would take a wage cut of NZ$460,000 over the next three months, while England women's team manager Phil Neville and the men's U21 manager Aidy Boothroyd would take reductions in the region of 15-30 percent.

The FA decision contrasts the approach of some Premier League clubs, such as league leaders Liverpool, who say they will use the government's job retention scheme to pay some non-playing staff, who are furloughed.

Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United and Norwich City have taken similar decisions, sparking criticism from the Government, which has taken a dim view of millionaire players and managers not taking wage cuts, while the league is suspended.