Coronavirus wrap: Fans given hope of returning and UEFA confirms schedules

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden and UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin have hinted fans could return to football grounds soon on another busy day of developments due to the coronavirus crisis.

As the Premier League returned on Wednesday behind closed doors, Dowden said it was vital for the finances of clubs at all levels to get supporters back in the grounds.

“I would really hope that by the return of the new season we might be in a position whereby some fans could start to return to stadiums,” Dowden said.

“And I know that would be another important part of restoring the financial position of clubs.”

Dowden’s comments came after Ceferin suggested supporters could yet be able to attend the final matches of the Champions League as the European governing body outlined plans to finish the European tournaments this summer.

The last eight of the Champions League will be played out in Lisbon in August, while the final stages of the Europa League will be played across four cities in Germany – Cologne, Duisburg, Dusseldorf and Gelsenkirchen between August 10 and 21, with Cologne hosting the final.

It is not yet known if the last-16 ties of the Champions League ties yet to be played – including the one between Manchester City and Real Madrid – will take place at the original home venue or on neutral territory.

Portugal is not yet allowing spectators to attend matches, but Ceferin did not rule out that changing over the next two months.

“We don’t know if only the local fans, if no fans, or even the fans from different clubs could travel to the venue,” he said.

“As it looks now, if we were to decide now, then we would play without fans. We have to wait because the situation is changing every day, we have to see what the situation will be in August.”

The draw for the quarter and semi-finals of the Champions League and Europa League will take place at UEFA headquarters in Nyon on July 10.

The Champions League final is set for August 23 with the quarter-finals getting under way on August 12.

The Women’s Champions League will be concluded in the Basque cities of Bilbao and San Sebastian between August 21 and 30.

Aleksander Ceferin file photo
Aleksander Ceferin hopes fans might be able to attend the final stages of the Champions League (Niall Carson/PA).

It was also confirmed that the rearranged Euro 2020 tournament would be played between June 11 and July 11 next year, with all 12 of the original host cities still involved and Wembley remaining as host for the semi-finals and final.

Ahead of the return of the Championship on Saturday, the latest round of testing brought up eight positives tests at six different clubs.

Brentford, who play Fulham on Saturday, revealed one of the tests came from their club but did not say whether it was a player or not.

There were four positive tests returned at League One level, where four teams have begun preparing for the play-offs which start on July 3.

There were no positive tests among the four League Two clubs, who kick off their play-off competition on Thursday evening.

The Welsh Rugby Union has said it will need a further round of borrowing to help survive the “extreme” aftershock of the pandemic, with players potentially facing long-term pay cuts.

In an open letter addressing the financial impact of the pandemic, WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips said: “We are working hard to secure a loan and, importantly, on terms that allows for repayment over a number of years.”

Sale Sharks have reached agreements with all players and staff over the implementation of pay cuts in line with the Premiership’s new salary cap rules.

CLUB STATEMENT 🦈 | In response to the announcement that the Premiership Rugby salary cap will be reduced, along with the ongoing discussions between @premrugby clubs and their players, we would like to issue the following statement.


— Sale Sharks🦈 (@SaleSharksRugby) June 17, 2020

Clubs voted unanimously last week to reduce the cap by £1.4million from the 2021/22 season onwards – prompting a threat of strike action from the Rugby Players’ Association.

Serena Williams has announced her intention to take part in this year’s US Open while the ATP and WTA Tours have revealed revised schedules and plan to start again on separate dates in August.

Williams endorsing the US Open, which is set to be held behind closed doors between August 31 and September 13 and will be the first major tournament to go ahead amid the coronavirus pandemic, is a major boost for organisers.

The 23-time grand slam champion’s comments are in stark contrast to men’s world number one Novak Djokovic saying recently that proposed safety protocols are “extreme” and make it “impossible” to play, while Rafael Nadal, who lifted the men’s trophy at Flushing Meadows last year, has said he has no desire to travel overseas currently.

On this day 2015: Serena Williams won her 20th grand slam title.
Serena Williams is keen to play at the US Open this year (Steven Paston/PA)

Williams said: “This announcement has been on my mind all day but ultimately I really cannot wait to return to New York and play the US Open 2020.

“I feel the USTA is going to do a really good job of ensuring everything is amazing, perfect and everyone is safe. It’s going to be exciting, it’s been over six months since a lot of us have played professional tennis.”

Scotland’s Twenty20 international against Australia, scheduled to be played on June 26 in Edinburgh, has been cancelled.

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