Premier League’s Project Restart receives boost as only one positive coronavirus test returned
The Premier League’s Project Restart plans received a further boost on Wednesday afternoon when just one positive coronavirus test came back out of 1,197 conducted on staff at top-flight clubs on Monday and Tuesday. Tottenham said they had been informed that the positive test had come from a member of staff at their club.
It is another encouraging set of results for the league, which reported no positive tests in the previous round.
Tottenham’s match against north London rivals Arsenal is one of the games still to be played, as is Spurs against West Ham. The Hammers also have a home game against Chelsea at the London Stadium.
It is understood that a proposed fixture list for at least a proportion of the remaining matches will be presented to clubs at a shareholders’ meeting on Thursday, with a provisional restart date of June 17 having been set.
A statement from the Metropolitan Police read: “The MPS have been in regular contact with the NPCC football lead DCC Mark Roberts who is co-ordinating the policing response to the restart of any football matches across the UK.
“Whilst agreement has been reached as to when the season may recommence, the plans for this to happen are still being finalised.
“We remain in contact with all the relevant bodies and will make plans as necessary when we receive a final proposed schedule for games.”
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters told Sky Sports last week that he hoped the final number of matches needing to be played at neutral venues would be kept as low as possible.
It is still a world away from the position at the start of May, when clubs were told that all matches would have to be played at eight to 10 neutral venues for the season to be completed.
It is understood that Liverpool City Council’s safety advisory group is due to meet early next week. Everton are hoping it will allow them to stage the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park on the weekend of June 19-22.
The match had been one of the five fixtures in the remainder of the 2019-20 Premier League season which the UK’s football policing lead, Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts of South Yorkshire Police, said was set to be played at a neutral venue at the request of the local force.
Merseyside Police appeared to contradict DCC Roberts on Friday by saying they had no objections to policing matches in Liverpool.
The remaining matches were Manchester City’s home games against Liverpool and Newcastle, Manchester United v Sheffield United and Newcastle v Liverpool.
It also included provision for any game in which runaway league leaders Liverpool could win the title to be played at a neutral ground.
Premier League clubs will discuss a wide variety of topics on Thursday, including protocols around match day operations and a curtailment framework. It is understood a draft fixture list for at least a proportion of the remaining matches will be shown to the clubs.
Southampton chief executive Martin Semmens told PA: “Thursday’s meeting is a lot to do with the medical protocols, the playing games, and then the technical side of playing games, in terms of substitutions and the rules.
“Let’s look at all the protocols we’ve been given, let’s work out really clearly whether we can do this and we can get to the highest standard possible.
“I’ve seen the paperwork and it’s massive and it’s a big job for us to do.”
Only one individual out of 1,197 tested positive in the latest round of Premier League coronavirus tests. Tottenham later said they had been informed that the individual who had tested positive was a member of staff at their club.
It is another encouraging set of results for the league, which reported no positive tests in the previous round.
The individual concerned must now self-isolate for a period of seven days.
FOOTBALL: Tel Aviv’s Bloomfield Stadium fitted with disinfectant spray in tunnel
Tel Aviv’s Bloomfield Stadium has installed a special tunnel to spray soccer players arriving for matches with a fine disinfectant mist to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
The pilot of the tunnel, which will run until the end of the season, comes as sports leagues around the globe are preparing to resume play but grappling with how to ensure the health of players and fans.
Israel’s soccer league has resumed but behind closed doors.
The tunnel uses electrolyzed water – produced by the electrolysis of water and salt – which has long been approved for use as a disinfectant.
Researchers at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University say they have developed technology to prolong the shelf life of electrolyzed water.
RD Pack, an Israeli company specialising in automation, installed the disinfectant dispersal system into the tunnel. A water pump machine senses when someone enters and spray nozzles automatically open for 15 seconds, bathing players and their belongings in a sanitising mist.
“We are not a cure for the coronavirus, we are fighting against its spread,” said Eran Druker, RD vice president for business development.
Scottish Premiership clubs and Sky Sports will offer fans ‘virtual season tickets’ allowing them to watch broadcasts of their club’s home games when top-flight Scottish football resumes in August.
The Scottish Professional Football League announced it had agreed terms with the broadcaster on a new package to screen 48 games next season, and had spread the cost of a rebate for fixtures not completed in the curtailed 2019-20 season across the term of a new five-year contract.
It is hoped the new virtual season tickets will provide clubs with an alternative source of matchday income as football resumes behind closed doors.
SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster said: “This is an innovative and pragmatic solution to the challenges posed by Covid-19 and I’m grateful for the flexibility shown by our clubs and by Sky Sports.
“This agreement means that any liability for games not delivered during Season 2019/20 has now been settled, on terms that reflect Sky’s status as a committed partner and supporter of Scottish football.”
Last month, Celtic were confirmed as champions for the ninth consecutive year as it was determined the season would not resume, with clubs having either eight or nine fixtures left to play at the time of the decision.
Reports in Scotland said the loss of those games could have cost the SPFL up to £5.5million, but that Doncaster was seeking to negotiate a much-reduced penalty of around £1.5million to be paid over the course of the five-year deal. None of the figures involved have been confirmed.
CRICKET: Three West Indies players decline invitation to tour
Three West Indies players have decided against travelling to England for next month’s Test tour, which will go ahead behind closed doors in a ‘biosecure’ environment because of coronavirus.
Batsmen Darren Bravo and Shimron Hetmyer and fast bowling all-rounder Keemo Paul have not been named in a 25-man group, comprising a 14-strong squad and 11 reserves.
A Cricket West Indies statement said: “Darren Bravo, Shimron Hetmyer and Keemo Paul all declined the invitation to travel to England for the tour and CWI fully respects their decision to choose to do so.
“As previously stated, CWI will not hold this decision against these players when considering future selection.”
Amazon will make its four Premier League matches in the remainder of the 2019-20 season free to air.
The English top flight has set a provisional restart date of June 17, with all 92 matches due to be televised.
Sky Sports has announced 25 of its 64 matches will be free to air on its Pick channel, while the BBC has the rights to screen four games on terrestrial TV. Amazon has now set out its plans for the 2019-20 season.
“Like the rest of the country, we are excited to see the Premier League return to action,” said Alex Green, MD Prime Video Sport Europe.
“We will be making all four of Amazon Prime Video’s additional fixtures in the 2019-20 season available free of charge; fans will not need a Prime membership to view the games on Prime Video.”
Formula One is hoping to have a finalised 2020 calendar in place by the end of the month after announcing plans to return to action in July, but chief executive Chase Carey said he would not set any hard deadlines with safety still the priority.
F1 on Tuesday published an eight-race European calendar which will see the delayed season get under way with a double-header in Austria on July 5 and 12 before a race in Hungary, two at Silverstone in August and further events in Spain, Belgium and Italy – all to be staged behind closed doors.
But owners Liberty are hoping to stage between 15 and 18 grands prix this year and Carey said he remained confident in that goal.
“We feel good about it,” he said on the F1 website. “We’re in uncharted waters. We certainly continue to have a lack of visibility beyond a fairly short timeframe…
“We’re not going to give a deadline right now. With the fluidity of the situation, a deadline would create pressures which may not be right and realistic for the situation so we’re thinking of goals.
“Our goal would be before the end of June to if not complete the rest of the calendar, is to have a handle on it. We know what we would like to try and do.”
Dillian Whyte’s heavyweight showdown against Alexander Povetkin is still expected to take place this summer despite Matchroom announcing the cancellation of the July 4 card at the Manchester Arena.
An initial date of May 2 was pushed back by two months because of the coronavirus pandemic and the bill has now been scrapped altogether in line with the latest Government and British Boxing Board of Control regulations.
However, Eddie Hearn is next month expecting to launch his Fight Camp – holding bio-secure bouts in his back garden in Essex – and it is understood Whyte-Povetkin could take place in mid-August.
Matchroom said in a statement: “Matchroom Boxing have taken the decision to reschedule their events due to take place in Newcastle on Saturday June 27 and Cardiff on Saturday July 11, while the event taking place at Manchester Arena on Saturday July 4 has been cancelled.
“Subject to the developing situation, Lee Selby’s IBF lightweight world title final eliminator against George Kambosos Jr at the Motorpoint Arena Cardiff has been rescheduled to Saturday October 3.
“Lewis Ritson’s clash with former world champion Miguel Vazquez at the Utilita Arena Newcastle has been rescheduled to Saturday October 17.”
FOOTBALL: Son Heung-min reflects on military service
Tottenham forward Son Heung-min has described his military service in South Korea as “tough” but said he was able to enjoy it during the Premier League’s enforced hiatus.
All South Korean men must complete mandatory military service by the age of 28 but Son, who turns 28 in July, avoided missing any time for Tottenham as he completed his last month with the season suspended amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The enforced break has also allowed Son to complete his recovery from the arm fracture he suffered in Spurs’ 3-2 win over Aston Villa in February.
“It’s been a very busy three months,” Son joked in a video on the Spurs website. Son was excused the full 21-month military service after helping South Korea to victory in the 2018 Asian Games, but was still required to serve a shorter period.
“It was a good experience,” Son said. “I couldn’t say everything that I’ve done but I really enjoyed it. Those guys were nice. The three weeks were tough but I tried to enjoy it.
“I don’t know how the people felt, but for me the three weeks have been long but it was a good experience, I enjoyed it. The first day when we don’t know each other was a bit weird but soon we got to know each other. We spent every day together in one room, 10 people very close, working together, we helped each other so the time was fantastic.
“Those guys, the first day and second day they couldn’t even speak to me but by the end they were joking with me and we were enjoying everyone together.”
Son was out injured for the final weeks before the Premier League was suspended in mid-March, but the break in the season has allowed him to recover from a fractured arm, and he is now raring to get going again.
“I’m physically fine, I’m working really, really hard to be at my maximum level and I’m nearly there,” he said.
“Now we can train together, we’re training more then the last two weeks and the players – Moussa (Dembele) is back, Harry (Kane) is back, Stevie (Bergwijn) is back, everyone wants to play again and everyone is motivated.”
Gavin Mairs’ column on the return of the Premiership
Yet while there may still be much work to be completed, and the way forward is not without risk, there is now growing expectation that the move to stage two – contact training – will now be considerably more straightforward than was first feared given the bulk of work that has been on-going in the background.
The Yomiuri Giants, Japan’s most famous baseball team, called off a preseason game on Wednesday with reports that at least one player may have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Japan hopes to open its delayed baseball season on June 19 in empty stadiums. But this news puts the 12-team league in jeopardy of being able to start.
A Giants spokesman confirmed the Wednesday game with the Seibu Lions was called off but declined to give any information about positive tests.
Japanese media reported that a Giants’ player was believed to have contacted COVID-19 but did not offer sources. Japanese television NHK said more than one player was believed to have tested positive and the Ashai newspaper said it was two.
The Hanshin Tigers reported at least one player testing positive several months ago, Sports in Japan have been suspended for more than two months because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Playing in empty stadiums is not ideal but a bigger challenge for players during England’s home series against West Indies will be changing the way they shine the ball and keeping a lid on celebrations, former England captain Nasser Hussain has said.
Subject to government approval, the three-test series will take place in July behind closed doors, with the use of saliva to shine the ball likely to be banned as part of measures to prevent spread of the new coronavirus.
Hussain, 52, told Sky Sports News the teams would have no choice but to create their own atmosphere in the empty venues, though other aspects of post-shutdown cricket would be harder to get used to.
“Some of the stuff they have trained their brain for 10 years to do, shining a cricket ball, celebrating a wicket, will be the difficult thing for them,” he added.
“They are used to putting saliva on a cricket ball and can’t do that anymore, so they will have to re-train the brain.”
Several pace bowlers have voiced concerns about the potential ban, which they fear would restrict their ability to generate swing, but England captain Joe Root said it could make his bowlers even more accurate.
“It could work in our favour and up skill levels,” he told Sky Sports. “Not having the assistance that you might normally have means your accuracy has to improve.
“Guys will have to find another way to get something out of the surface, whether that’s a bit more effort, changing angles on the crease, using the wobble seam they might not have in their locker. It could develop our bowlers in a four or five-week period.”
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