Coronavirus hits sport: Scottish Rugby likely to slash player wages

The Scottish Rugby Union will discuss a salary reduction programme for higher-earning players and staff, with the governing body's finances badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend and the SRU board have taken a 25 percent wage deferral until September 1 to help ease the burden, while chief executive Mark Dodson has taken a 30 percent deferral.

Executive directors, including Dodson, have also waived their annual bonus entitlements for the 2019/20 financial year.

"Scottish Rugby will consult with all players and identified staff on a salary reduction programme focused on our higher-earning employees and players," Dodson said.

The game in Scotland has been suspended since March 13, due to the outbreak of the virus that has infected more than 1.9 million people globally, causing more than 118,000 deaths.

Dodson added a portion of Scottish Rugby's 450-strong staff would be furloughed, although 75 percent would remain unaffected by changes and have their salaries maintained.

He said that Scotland's summer tour, involving two tests against world champions South Africa and one in New Zealand, was "very unlikely" to go ahead.

The November tests against Argentina, Japan and New Zealand were also uncertain, he added.

"If the autumn tests were to be cancelled, we face a further loss of expected revenue well in excess of STG12 million [NZ$24 million]," Dodson said.

"We have to assume that any league or tournament rugby would also then be unable to take place for a period, exacerbating the loss of income.

"Like many, we hope the professional game season can be completed, but have no guarantee that even a truncated end to any of the competitions will happen."


Spurs reverse decision to furlough staff

Harry Kane
Harry Kane Photo credit: Reuters

Tottenham Hotspur have reversed their decision to furlough staff during the coronavirus pandemic, amid criticism from supporters, the English Premier League club says.

Spurs had imposed a 20 percent pay cut on 550 non-playing staff in April and May to protect jobs.

But the club said that only board members would see salary reductions and all other employees - whether full-time, casual or furloughed - would be paid 100 percent of their wages for April and May.

"The criticism the club has received over the last week has been felt all the more keenly, because of our track record of good works and our huge sense of responsibility to care for those that rely on us, particularly locally," club chairman Daniel Levy said.

Tottenham Hotspur Supporters' Trust said the club's decision to use the government scheme, where employers can claim for 80 percent of furloughed staff's monthly wages up to STG2500 (NZ$4900 per month) was harming their reputation.

"It was never our intent, as custodians, to do anything other than put measures in place to protect jobs, whilst the club sought to continue to operate in a self-sufficient manner during uncertain times," Levy added.

"We regret any concern caused during an anxious time and hope the work our supporters will see us doing in the coming weeks, as our stadium takes on a whole new purpose, will make them proud of their club."

Spurs said medical equipment had been installed in their stadium to operate drive-through COVID-19 testing and swabbing for NHS staff, families and their dependents.

"Our Tottenham Hotspur Stadium becomes the first Premier League ground to be used for testing, following on from other sporting venues around the world," the club added.

The stadium has also been fitted out to house the North Middlesex Hospital's Women's Outpatient Services, freeing up capacity at the hospital to treat patients with COVID-19 symptoms.

Professional football in England had been suspended until April 30. The Premier League has said the season will only resume when the situation stabilises.


Big crowd attend football match in Belarus

More than 1000 fans cheered, chanted and hugged each other, as they attended a Belarusian top-flight league match on Monday (NZ time), despite calls from a growing number of supporters to boycott games, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Belarus is the only country in Europe still playing a national soccer league, making it an unlikely draw for fans overseas, who are starved of matches in their own countries.

In choosing to stay open, the league takes its cue from President Alexander Lukashenko, who has resisted imposing strict lockdown measures, and prescribed remedies like drinking vodka or driving tractors to fight the pandemic.

Many fans have chosen to stay away, but more than 1000 attended the clash between FC Dynamo Brest and Isloch Minsk, one of three games played in the top-flight Vysshaya Liga last weekend. Only a relatively small number were seen wearing masks.

Defending champions Brest won 3-1 to go third in the standings after four matches.

The club earlier launched an innovative solution to dwindling match attendance numbers - putting mannequins with cut-out photographs of fans into the stands.

Belarus currently has 2919 reported cases with 29 deaths from coronavirus.

The World Health Organisation has urged Belarus authorities to introduce tighter measures to contain the coronavirus, saying the pandemic was entering a "concerning" new phase in the country.

Lukashenko dismissed fears about the virus as a "psychosis" and said it was more important to keep the economy going.


AFL clubs facing two years of uncertainty 

Coronavirus hits sport: Scottish Rugby likely to slash player wages
Photo credit: Getty

The coronavirus outbreak is likely to "bugger up" at least two AFL seasons, according to coaching great Mick Malthouse.

With the season potentially being pushed into as late as December, Malthouse believes there will be ramifications felt well into 2021.

Speaking to SEN AW radio, the three-time premiership-winning mentor said COVID-19 would leave the game facing at least two years of uncertainty, if the 2020 season is pushed out past October.

"I would hate to see 2021 interfered with by 2020," Malthouse told SEN SA radio.

"If it means that 2020 becomes a showcase of our game, you don't want two years to be buggered up - one is bad enough. Let's not muck up the second one as well.

"By going into December, what sides are going to be ready by March next year? There's a lot of things to think about."

The AFL season has been suspended until at least May 31, with league hierarchy already reducing the campaign to 17 rounds.

Just one round of matches was played before the season was halted and Malthouse believes those opening results should be scrapped, if the competition resumes.

"Because round one and round two are going to be separated by such a vast day difference, I can't get my head around that it counts," he said.

"I understand totally that there are nine sides that will say they won the game and were ready to go, but I would say, the last four games of that first round, those teams all knew that this was the last game to be played for several months.

"The West Coast and Melbourne game was a practice match, in all honesty. If you looked at the game, it lacked intensity.

"Both teams went down that race knowing they weren't going to play next week, whereas the Thursday and Friday nights, there were still hints that we were going to have around two next week."


German virtual football match raises funds

German fourth-division club Lokomotive Leipzig have raised more than 120,000 euros  (NZ$206,775) from ticket sales for a virtual game against invisible opponents.

Lok had hoped to attract more online spectators than the 120,000, said to have attended their European Cup Winners' Cup semi-final against Girondins Bordeaux in April 1987, which they won on penalties.

The club is using the money to pay bills amid the coronavirus pandemic, with play suspended indefinitely in their league.

They passed the 120,000-mark on the weekend, as fans could buy imaginary tickets priced at one euro each via Lok's online shop. Ticket sales will continue until the May 8 virtual game.

"When we started the campaign on March 19, hardly anyone would have expected that we would break the 120,000 mark so quickly," club president Thomas Loewe said. "On behalf of the club, I want to thank all supporters from around the world who have made donations." 


Italian league hopes for May training return

Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo Photo credit: Getty

Italy's football federation hopes players can be tested for coronavirus at the start of May to prepare for the season to restart.

Serie A has been suspended since March 9, because of the outbreak, and it is still not clear when or if the season can resume.

Italy has been one of the countries hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with almost 20,000 deaths and more than 156,000 confirmed cases. 

Players at several clubs have been infected.

Twelve rounds of matches still remain to be played, plus several outstanding fixtures.

Federation president Gabriele Gravina told Sky Sport Italia he was still determined for the season to be completed, no matter how long it took.

"As soon as the conditions are right, we'll finish the championship," Gravina said.

"Soon, there will be a meeting, we will establish the procedure, which we will then communicate. We will start, I hope, at the beginning of the month [May] with tests to ensure that players are negative and the training can follow.

"Will we play through the summer? We don't have a deadline, but the idea is to finish the championships."

Several clubs have opposed the idea of carrying on with Serie A, including Brescia, which has threatened not to take the field.