Coronavirus hits sport: French government casts doubt over Tour de France rescheduling

Coronavirus hits sport: French government casts doubt over Tour de France rescheduling
Photo credit: Getty

The Tour de France is not a sure bet to go ahead this year, due to the COVID-19 crisis, says French sports minister Roxana Maracineanu.

Cycling's biggest event of the year has been rescheduled to August 29-September 20. With crowd-drawing events being banned in France until the end of August, special arrangements may be needed for the start in Nice, the sports ministry said last month.

"Many people are begging me to keep the Tour, even behind closed doors," Maracineanu has told France Television.

"I hope it will take place, but I am not sure. We do not know what the epidemic will be like after lockdown."

In place since March 17, France's lockdown will be partially lifted on Monday, although the seasons of several sports championships, including football's Ligue 1 and rugby's Top 14, have already been abandoned.

Maracineanu adds that the Tour and the rescheduled French Open tennis, expected to start on September 20, could be held behind closed doors, should the ban on popular events be extended.

"Just like the Tour de France, the French Open is the quintessence of professional sports with fans," she says.

"The Roland Garros stadiums have many seats to fill and having it be played behind closed doors would be the worst solution, but we would do it, if the survival of those sports was at stake."


England cricket ponders hefty financial loss

English cricket is braced for losses of up to NZ$735 million, if no matches are played this summer, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The cricket season was due to begin on April 2, but no matches will be played until at least July.

"We anticipate the cost of no cricket this year could be as bad as 380 million pounds," England & Wales Cricket Board chief executive Tom Harrison has told the UK government's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee.

"That is the worst-case scenario for us. That would be the loss of 800 days of cricket across all of our professional clubs and the ECB.

"It is the most significant financial challenge we have ever faced."

The sport's new competition - 'The Hundred' - which Harrison describes as a "profit centre" for cricket that was expected to add NZ$22million of revenue to the game in its first year, has been postponed until next year.

A three-match test series with the West Indies, originally scheduled for June, has been postponed until later in the summer.

England are due to play a series of T20 and one-day internationals against Australia in July, and a test series against Pakistan in July and August.

Harrison still hopes some test matches will take place without spectators, which would still incur a loss of about 100 million pounds, but he said such matches were subject to serious logistical difficulties, while the coronavirus continues to be a global threat.

"The complexities of lockdown in those nations means there's a huge amount of complexity to bring teams over, follow government guidelines and get players ready," he adds.

"But with a following wind, hopefully we'll be able to play a significant number of test matches this summer, which will help us mitigate those financial losses that we are facing at the moment."


Nadal expects no tennis before 2021

Rafa Nadal
Rafa Nadal Photo credit: Reuters

Rafael Nadal sees the Australian Open as his next big target, with the world No.2 not expecting to play competitive tennis again this year, because of the coronavirus.

Speaking to Spanish newspaper El Pais, the 19-time Grand Slam champion thinks the rest of the year would be a write off.

"I wish, but I don't believe so," Nadal says. "If you said we'll be ready for 2021, I would sign up for that.

"I am more worried about the Australian Open than what will happen at the end of this year.

"I think 2020 is practically lost. I have hopes that we will be able to start next year.

"Hopefully, that's what will happen."

With Wimbledon cancelled, the French Open has been moved from its traditional start date in May to the end of September, while the US Open is still scheduled to start at the end of August.

But 33-year-old Nadal is not optimistic either will go ahead and appears to be planning for next year's Australian Open, due to start on January 18.

Nadal also says it's important to find a balance between being positive and not avoiding criticism of politicians.

"No-one expected this, but those that govern here should have had access to all the information and, in that sense, there were errors," he says.

"The situation has overwhelmed all of us, not just Spain, but it's the same as when I lose a match, and [Roger] Federer and [Novak] Djokovic also lose a match.

"I can't excuse myself, just because they lost too. Everyone has dealt with this badly."


England rugby on brink without fixtures

Cancellation of this year's November internationals and the 2021 Six Nations, due to coronavirus restrictions, would have a "catastrophic impact" on the Rugby Football Union's finances, says chief executive Bill Sweeney.

Sweeney has told a British Parliamentary committee that the RFU's finances are in "pretty good shape", after extensive cost-cutting and the furloughing of more than 60 percent of the union's staff, but it is being forced to plan for a worst-case scenario in terms of a return to play.

Sweeney says 85 percent of the union's income comes from hosting games at Twickenham, where each match generates more than NZ$19.3 million.

England are due to host New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga and Australia in November. 

Those games remain very much in the balance, due to likely travel restrictions, with alternative games against northern hemisphere opposition - possibly even an autumn Six Nations - being discussed.

England are also at home to Scotland, Italy and France in the regular Six Nations next February and March, with some concern that restrictions on public attendance of sports events could impact on the potential to house 82,000 spectators.

"If this were to go into summer of next year, with no November internationals, and if the Six Nations was affected, it would have a catastrophic impact on the game in England," Sweeney has told a Department for Culture, Media and Sport committee teleconference.

Sweeney says the union - rugby's biggest and richest - has been working out how it would deal with a series of scenarios for this year.

"If the autumn internationals go ahead, and we are assuming certain declines in spectator numbers, we'll still lose something like 32 million pounds in revenue through to the end of the next financial year," he says.

"If they go ahead, but are behind closed doors, that would be an impact of 85 million, and if they are cancelled it would be 107 million - on top of the 15 million already lost this year."

Sweeney says there has already been a major round of cost-cutting that has "clawed back" 13 million of the 15 million projected loss and he's targeting 20-25 million in savings by the end of next year.


PFA to pore over EPL return options

Coronavirus hits sport: French government casts doubt over Tour de France rescheduling
Photo credit: Reuters

Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor has raised the possibility that halves may be shorter than 45 minutes, as discussions continue over the Premier League's return.

English top-flight clubs underlined their commitment to restarting the 2019-20 season on Friday, but say "it was agreed that the PFA, LMA, players and managers are key to this process, and will be further consulted".

Welfare and wellbeing of individuals returning to work are key and Taylor will consider the proposals, as the Premier League aims to resume in mid-June.

"They're not stupid," he has told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "They will put safety first.

"There is a protocol being put together that is going to be presented, involving all medical experts and government medical experts.

"There will be a meeting of the shareholders of the Premier League on Friday and then shortly after that, the document of returning to work should be finalised and then, in the following week, next week, as early as possible, that will be put to players and coaches.

"Then the practicality of all those issues and it will be looked at, club by club."

Put to Taylor it would benefit some clubs for the Premier League not to finish and it was decided all matches are void, he said: "We'll have to wait and see.

"I'm talking about a protocol that's coming out.

"I'm talking about the future. We don't know the future.

"What we do know is what propositions have been put, what ideas have been put, the possibility of having more substitutes, games possibly not being the full 45 minutes each way.

"There's talks of neutral stadiums. There's been lots of things being put forward.

"Try and wait and see what the proposals are, and then have the courtesy to let the managers and coaches and players also assimilate all those, and come to a considered view."

Taylor does not expect matches to be played until the "middle of June" and Health Secretary Matt Hancock would welcome the Premier League's return in the right way.

"Well, I'm absolutely open to that, but we've got to make decisions about what the relative priorities are of all the different things that could be reopened," Hancock told the Today programme.


Spanish club voices concerns over restart

La Liga side Eibar has expressed its concerns around returning to action, saying it's worried about contributing to a second outbreak of coronavirus.

Spanish clubs will return to training this week, before a proposed June restart to the top two divisions, but the Basque club has reservations.

Its players and staff have demanded guarantees about their safety.

"We are afraid to start an activity in which we cannot reach the minimum recommendation of the experts, physical distancing," they say.

"It unsettles us that, for doing what we like most, we could get infected, infect our families and friends, and even contribute to a new outbreak of the pandemic, with the terrible consequences that would have for the population.

"The most important thing should be everyone's health, and it's the moment that this idea comes to the fore with facts and not only with words. Only with this clear premise would it make sense to return to the competition.

"We want guarantees. We demand responsibility."

Meanwhile, Barcelona's players will return to their training ground on Wednesday to undergo testing.

"The first team will be back at the Ciutat Esportiva on Wednesday for the relevant medical tests, ahead of starting training individually in the coming days," the club says.

"La Liga has given the go-ahead for the tests to be carried out, after the club facilities are inspected on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the medicals will be carried out to guarantee the players' health."


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