Coronavirus wrap: Medical chief urges patience and athletics fund is set up

FIFA medical chief Michel D’Hooghe has warned against a return to football before September while World Athletics has launched a fund to support athletes experiencing financial hardship during the coronavirus pandemic.

Top-flight clubs will work to standardised return-to-training protocols as part of the Premier League’s ‘Project Restart’, with a reported resumption date of June 8 although the PA news agency understands it could be two days earlier.

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

And D’Hooghe, a FIFA council member and medical committee chairman, hopes from a personal viewpoint that all leagues follow suit.

Paris St Germain are 12 points clear at the top of Ligue 1
Paris St Germain are 12 points clear at the top of Ligue 1

He told Sky Sports: “The world is not ready for competitive football, I hope this can change very quickly and I sincerely hope it does, believe me, but I think it is not the case today. Today you need some more patience.

“Football remains always a contact sport and one of the first things that everybody says is that you should avoid contact at the moment. Football can only be possible if contacts are possible again.

“That’s my personal opinion, I engage only myself with that.”

D’Hooghe added that yellow cards should be handed out to players who spit on the field when action resumes.

The Belgian doctor acknowledged that spitting “is a common practice in football and it is not very hygienic”.

He told the Daily Telegraph: “This is one of the reasons why we have to be very careful before we start again. I am not pessimistic but I am rather sceptical at the moment.”

Athletes who are struggling financially amid the suspension of competition will be able to apply for part of a £400,000 hardship fund launched by World Athletics and the International Athletics Foundation.

Lord Coe, who is World Athletics president, will lead a panel that will assess applications and allocate money.

Coe said: “Our professional athletes rely on prize money as part of their income and we’re mindful that our competition season, on both the track and road, is being severely impacted by the pandemic.

“We are hopeful that we will be able to stage at least some competition later this year, but in the meantime we will also endeavour, through this fund and additional monies we intend to seek through the friends of our sport, to help as many athletes as possible.”

Coventry players have unanimously agreed a 25 per cent wage deferral “for the foreseeable future” to help safeguard the club’s future, according to a statement on their official website.

The Sky Blues announced early in April that all players had been furloughed but the club would supplement the Government grants to ensure they were all paid their full wages.

The players’ statement read: “By doing this we feel that we are playing our part in what is an extremely testing time for everyone. We wish to help the club overcome some short term financial difficulties that the majority of teams at this level are facing.”

Meanwhile, Australia’s National Rugby League has announced plans to resume play on May 28.

Following talks with clubs, broadcast partners and other stakeholders, Australian Rugby League Commission chair Peter V’landys said the league would return as a 20-round competition. The original schedule was for 25 rounds prior to the play-offs.

"Today is a landmark day for rugby league in 2020'

The NRL Telstra Premiership is set to resume with a 20 round competition 👏

— NRL (@NRL) April 28, 2020

Players are due to return to training on May 4 under strict hygiene regulations, while New Zealand Warriors will travel to Australia on Sunday before spending 14 days in quarantine.

V’landys said: “It’s safer now to play than it was in round two when we were playing. The daily infection rate in New South Wales was 25.79 per cent when the last game was played.

“It has been now less than one per cent in NSW for the last 18 days and is continuing to drop. There has also been a significant improvement in the recovery rate, being 75 per cent in NSW and 83 per cent in Australia. Our players will be safer under our protocols than they would be as regular members of the community.”