Coronavirus wrap: Sport facing ‘unprecedented challenge at every level’

Sport England chief executive Tim Hollingsworth has warned sport faces an unprecedented challenge due to the coronavirus pandemic amid warnings that fans will not return to stadiums in the near future.

Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee will hear how several sports have been affected by the health crisis on Tuesday.

And Hollingsworth, one of those taking part, believes sport can play a huge role in how the country comes out of the lockdown.

Football pitches are being used for solo purposes
Football pitches are being used for solo purposes (PA)

“There is no question that Covid-19 represents an unprecedented challenge to sport at every level,” he told the Guardian.

“Although it’s natural that much focus is on what happens in the world of professional sport, the benefits of community sport and activity to physical and mental health have surely never been more important – particularly as part of healthy lifestyles which can guard against the risk of illness in the first place and as a crucial part of reducing social isolation.

“One thing for certain is that, when we start finally to emerge from the current lockdown, sport at grassroots level can and should be part of the solution to bringing communities back together, helping to repair the damage this period has brought to our social fabric, and keeping people fit and healthy.”

English Football League chairman Rick Parry, UK Sport chair Dame Katherine Grainger, England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive Tom Harrison and his Rugby Football Union counterpart Bill Sweeney have also been called to the evidence session.

Clarke fears fans will not return
Clarke fears fans will not return “any time soon” (Bradley Collyer/PA)

Football Association chairman Greg Clarke fears fans will not be returning to stadiums “any time soon”.

The Premier League and EFL both accept that any resumption to their schedules in the immediate future must take place behind closed doors.

In a letter to the FA Council, sent on Friday, Clarke said: “The reality is that we just don’t know how things are going to pan out. But with social distancing in place for some time to come we do face substantial changes to the whole football ecosystem. For example it’s hard to foresee crowds of fans – who are the lifeblood of the game – returning to matches any time soon.”

Clarke added that the ongoing uncertainty means that the board has agreed a “sensible” £75million budget cut.

He said: “In a worst-case scenario, this would be necessary for the next four years to offset a £300m deficit.”

Spanish football could be back next month as LaLiga announced that players will return to individual training this week following approval from the government.

The plan is for the top tier to resume in June and finish its season in the summer, but the Copa del Rey final between Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad will not take place until it can safely be played in front of a crowd.

In Germany, 10 individuals connected to clubs in the top two divisions have tested positive for coronavirus.

The German Football League (DFL) said 1,724 tests had been conducted on players and staff with 10 people isolated. A second round of testing on all participants will take place this week as clubs build towards a return to team training.

Bundesliga club Schalke back in training
Bundesliga club Schalke back in training (Martin Meissner/AP)

Former Chelsea forward Salomon Kalou has been suspended by Bundesliga club Hertha Berlin after he filmed himself flouting social distancing rules on his return to training.

The 34-year-old apologised for his actions, adding: “I didn’t really think it through, and was excited that my tests came back negative”.

Elsewhere, the NFL will not be staging games in London this year. Two matches had been scheduled for Wembley and another two at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

The league – which also had plans to stage a game in Mexico – declared it would “schedule all 2020 games in the United States in order for the entire season to be played in NFL teams’ stadia under consistent protocols focused on the well-being of players, personnel and fans”.

NFL update on 2020 season schedule.

— NFL UK (@NFLUK) May 4, 2020

With the Tokyo Olympic Games moved to 2021 because of the pandemic, FINA – swimming’s world governing body – announced next year’s World Aquatics Championships will instead take place from May 13-29, 2022, also in Japan.

The Women’s Tour, the UK’s first international stage cycling race for women which has been held for the last six years, will be rearranged for June 2021.

With the UCI due to announce a revised schedule on Tuesday, SweetSpot Group, organisers of the Women’s Tour, said this year’s event will not go ahead, having initially postponed the race in mid-March.

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