Coronavirus wrap: Serie A training boost but international rugby under question

Serie A clubs are preparing to reopen the doors of their training grounds in the coming days, but World Rugby’s re-elected chairman Sir Bill Beaumont admits the idea of resuming sport across international borders represents a much thornier proposition.

A reported change of heart by the Italian government is set to see Italian footballers return to club facilities from Monday as part of a phased easing of coronavirus restrictions.

Team sports were not due to be cleared until May 18 but, with some regional assemblies taking the view that they should be granted similar rights as individual athletes, sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora sought a review.

Socially distanced training is heading to Italian football.
Socially distanced training is heading to Italian football.

Both Corriere dello Sport and Gazzetta dello Sport quoted a communique, signed by interior minister Matteo Piantedosi, which allowed for high performance centres to begin operation again provided social distancing measures are observed.

Individual teams are likely to pursue their own arrangements now, steered by regional guidelines and their own preparedness to safely staff facilities.

As yet there is no certainty that the Serie A season will resume, with Juventus currently top of the paused table just a point ahead of Lazio.

Sir Bill Beaumont admits there are too many unknowns to plan
Sir Bill Beaumont admits there are too many unknowns to plan

The complexity of the issues facing Beaumont, who saw his mandate renewed for another four years after seeing off challenger Agustin Pichot in a ballot, are even greater. With different countries, regions and hemispheres to consider, the idea of getting the international game up and running smoothly could be problematic.

“We don’t know when we are going to come out of it. Some countries are coming out of it quicker than others,” he said.

“We still have to plan the international games, the domestic games, and already you can see there is difference of opinions from country to country whereby last week the French government said there would be no sport played at all until September 1, and in the UK there is still a desire to get some club games started before then.

“You don’t know if there’s going to be any inter-hemisphere travel at all this year. You don’t know whether you can start behind closed doors, we don’t know when that will be. Everything at the moment is scenario planning: what if, what if, what if.”

In England, football finance expert Kieran Maguire says lower league clubs have been “taken out at the knees” by the pandemic.

There have been countless warnings about clubs going to the wall and League Two side Bradford revealed on Friday they had been informed that there is the “ever-growing possibility of supporters being unable to attend matches until 2021”.

Maguire, a lecturer in football finance at the University of Liverpool, said: “The clubs in the lower leagues, most of them have got fairly precarious finances to begin with and have been operating on a week-to-week basis in terms of meeting their financial obligations, paying the rent, paying the wage bill, paying the council tax and so on,” he told the PA news agency.

“And that’s during a season when they were having regular fixtures. How clubs can address that is beyond me if there is no money coming in through the turnstiles, which accounts for around 40 to 50 per cent of total income for some League One and League Two clubs.”

Mike Mulraney had some withering words on internal rows in Scottish football.
Mike Mulraney had some withering words on internal rows in Scottish football.

Meanwhile, Scottish Football Association vice-president and Alloa chairman Mike Mulraney has likened Rangers’ dispute with the league to “baldy men fighting over a comb”.

Rangers, allied with Hearts and Stranraer, have prompted an SPFL general meeting on May 12 to decide whether there should be an independent investigation into the process around the vote to end the season.

Mulraney told BBC Radio Scotland’s Sportsound programme: “Of course it’s important in the context of the event but in the context of what Scottish football is facing, it’s like me and another four baldy guys fighting over a comb.

Chris Froome has questioned whether fans could be kept away from the Tour de France
Chris Froome has questioned whether fans could be kept away from the Tour de France

“It’s not really going to impact the long-term future of Scottish football.”

Four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome believes a version of the race without fans with a new start date of August 29 will be possible, but questioned how easy it will be to keep committed supporters away.

“In theory, we can put the race on but I think the bigger question is would the organisers be able to keep people from actually coming out and gathering in large crowds? I think that’s the bigger question,” he said on Instagram Live.