Sport’s return from lockdown: Andy Murray to make competitive return against Kyle Edmund


No plans to reduce size of Snooker World Championships

Snooker chief Jason Ferguson has confirmed his sport has no intention of reducing the size of this year’s World Championship following the sport’s successful return from coronavirus lockdown this week.

Eleven days of action in the Championship League in Milton Keynes saw Belgium’s Luca Brecel emerge victorious late on Thursday night in one of the first domestic events to battle through the restrictions.

The rearranged World Championship is set to start behind closed doors at the Crucible at the end of July and Ferguson, who is chairman of the sport’s governing body, the WPBSA, is adamant its integrity will remain intact.

Ferguson told PA: “One hundred and forty-four players will start out for the World Championship, and the challenge is to ensure the access is there for every player.

“We are working closely with the government, through our all-party parliamentary group, on how we can make these processes of quarantine work and we’re waiting on the next stage of reopening as well.

“Whether or not we get huge crowds, the idea is to make sure that the World Championship is a true World Championship, that can be contested at the highest level with all the players who have earned the right to be there.”

Snooker’s next event, the eight-player Coral UK Tour, which is due to start on June 20, has been hit by the withdrawal of Ding Junhui, who elected not to travel from China despite representations being made on his behalf.

The 11-day Championship League event was played under tightly-controlled conditions, with all players and officials tested for the virus – there were no positives – and required to remain at the venue for the duration of the tournament.

Some players questioned how such a necessarily sterile environment will translate onto a bigger stage but Ferguson is convinced the Crucible atmosphere will cut through irrespective of the unique circumstances.

“There is something magical about the World Championships, about walking down those steps into that arena in front of a packed crowd,” added Ferguson.

“This time when the players walk out it may be a little quieter than usual. But it will still be the Crucible, it will still be the World Championships and at the end of it somebody will still lift the trophy and the cheque for half a million pounds.”



Soares could leave Arsenal without playing a single minute

Sam Dean brings you the news that Arsenal loanee Cedric Soares could leave without playing a single minute for the club. How? Click here for the full piece.

Cedric joined on loan from Southampton in the January transfer window, with Arsenal paying around £1 million as a loan fee, but has been unable to make his debut due to injury and the suspension of the Premier League.

The right-back is set to become a free agent on June 30 at the expiration of his Southampton deal. It is understood that, when he joined Arsenal, he had the option of a four-year contract with the club but that is yet to be triggered.

Cedric has been unable to play in Arsenal’s recent friendly matches against Charlton Athletic and Brentford because of a facial injury he suffered in training. He arrived at the club with a knee problem that took longer to clear up than was originally expected.


India cancel Zimbabwe tour

India will not travel to Zimbabwe for a one-day international series in August due to the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) secretary Jay Shah said on Friday.

The move follows the BCCI’s decision on Thursday to postpone India’s limited-overs tour to Sri Lanka, which was originally scheduled for later this month.

India, who last visited Zimbabwe for a bilateral series in 2016, were due to play a three-match ODI series. The BCCI has not confirmed rescheduled dates for either of the tours.

“The BCCI is determined to take steps towards the resumption of international and domestic cricket,” Shah said.

“But it will not rush into any decision that will jeopardise the efforts put in by the Central and State governments and several other respective agencies in containing the spread of the coronavirus.”

The BCCI said it will conduct a camp for its centrally contracted Indian cricketers only when it is completely safe to train outdoors.



Collingwood to take temporary charge of England ODI team

Paul Collingwood is set to be put in charge of England’s planned one-day series against Ireland, while a handful of county coaches will help oversee an expanded Test squad next month.

With England hoping to squeeze in as much of their scheduled fixtures as possible in a season already significantly shortened by the coronavirus shutdown, it is understood head coach Chris Silverwood has decided to take a break during the three ODIs against the Irish.

The July dates for those matches, which are all likely to be played at one of the Ageas Bowl and Emirates Old Trafford, are yet to be finalised with Cricket Ireland but assistant coach Collingwood has been earmarked as the man to deputise for Silverwood.

It is understood the former limited-overs captain could be officially appointed next week, when details of the Test squad are also anticipated.

Paul Collingwood (right) with Chris Silverwood

Paul Collingwood (right) with Chris Silverwood


Of the 55 players invited to resume training by the England and Wales Cricket Board, as many as 30 will be officially called up for the three-match series against the West Indies.

That effectively doubles the size of the usual playing staff on hand for a Test match, so contingencies have been put in place to expand Silverwood’s backroom team, which also includes Graham Thorpe as assistant.

At present there are more than 15 members of coaching staff from the county network assisting with England training at 11 venues, with the start of the domestic season still on hiatus until August 1 at the earliest.

Some of those will be asked to join the squad on a temporary basis in the coming weeks, with the possibility of other specialist consultants, leading up to a pre-series training camp and possible intra-squad warm-up match at the Ageas Bowl.

Meanwhile, it has been confirmed that the ECB authorised a short-term loan to Cricket West Indies to assist the latter during the cashflow crisis caused by Covid-19.

The payment is not related to any bilateral commitments between the two nations and repayment will be covered by future payments from the International Cricket Council.



‘Tennis is the problem child of international sport’

As Andy Murray prepares to make his competitive comeback, the sport he loves might not be in the best position. Simon Briggs has written a must-read piece for tennis fans on the sport’s structural problems, which are amplified by a painful lack of leadership. Read the whole thing here and below is a taster.

Even as golf prepared for Thursday’s revival of the PGA Tour, tennis professionals were arguing with each other – and the United States Tennis Association – over the return-to-play protocols required for August’s US Open.

The low point was a chaotic player briefing session on Wednesday, which found the players in outraged mood over the fact that the USTA – a body already in such financial trouble that it was forced to lay off 130 staff this week – was proposing to pay them a mere $50m, give or take, for their attendance in New York. (This is a five per cent reduction on the usual level).

Firstly, most top players are enormously selfish. (If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be top players in the first place.) Secondly, they are given far too much say in the running of this sport. Which helps to explain why tennis spends so much of its time in political turmoil.


Andy Murray to make competitive return against Kyle Edmund

Andy Murray’s return to competitive tennis will see him take on Kyle Edmund in the group stage of the Battle of the Brits tournament.

The all-British event, hosted by Jamie Murray, takes place behind closed doors at the National Tennis Centre from June 23-28 and runs with two round-robin groups before a knockout semi-final and final.

Andy Murray, who has not played since the Davis Cup in November due to a bruised bone, was hoping to have been back on tour in April following his injury but the calendar has been wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic.

The three-time grand slam champion will also play James Ward and Liam Broady in the Tim Henman Group.

British number one Dan Evans is in the Greg Rusedski Group with Cameron Norrie, Jack Draper and Jay Clarke.

Doubles specialist Jamie Murray is paired with Davis Cup team-mate Neal Skupski and will face Evans and Lloyd Glasspool, and Liam Broady and Norrie.

In the other doubles group, Edmund and Draper go head-to-head with Dom Inglot and Clarke, and Joe Salisbury and Jonny O’Mara.

The tournament, supported by the Lawn Tennis Association, kicks off a run of events at the National Tennis Centre, allowing the country’s top players to play competitive tennis ahead of the expected main tour resumption in August.



League One play-off dates confirmed

The League One season is set to conclude on July 13 after the English Football League announced the dates for the play-offs.

Third-tier clubs voted to curtail the regular season in a vote on Tuesday, leaving four clubs to fight it out for the final promotion place to the Championship.

Portsmouth will take on Oxford in a semi-final first leg on Friday, July 3, in a match kicking off at 5.30pm. Later that evening, Fleetwood host Wycombe in a 7.30pm kick-off.

The return legs will be played on Monday, July 6, with the final scheduled for a week later at Wembley.

John Marquis of Portsmouth FC celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's second goal during the FA Cup Fourth Round match between Portsmouth FC and Barnsley FC

Portsmouth are still hoping to be in the Championship next season


The decision to curtail the League One season was less clear cut than in the division below, with Peterborough owner Darragh MacAnthony expressing his unhappiness about the decision.

“Every letter from the EFL stated that we wanted to finish the season and we went along with that,” MacAnthony said on Sky Sports’ ‘The Football Show’ earlier this week.

“I spoke to Rick Parry, the chairman, in May and I said to him, ‘What are we doing? Things seem to be improving’ and he said, ‘We want to finish the season, there’s no reason not to finish the season’ so again we went along with that.

“We voted for football. We will always vote for football. I understand the health concerns but we’ve now been told football is back – the Premier League is back, the Championship is back. The EFL is 71 clubs and we’ve been told we can’t play football so it’s devastation and disappointment.”

The points-per-game calculation used to decide the final standings left Peterborough out of the top six.



Major Formula One financial concerns

Grands prix in Azerbaijan, Singapore and Japan have been cancelled, and three races in the Americas are in serious doubt, reports Oliver Brown. Here’s a snippet from his story on the uncertainty surrounding the sport:

F1 is seeking to flesh out the autumn period by visiting European tracks that have long since disappeared from the rotation. The San Marino Grand Prix, last held at Imola in 2006, is a strong contender, while the sport also hopes to stage events at Mugello, a Ferrari testing track in Tuscany, and the Algarve track of Portimao, not used by F1 in any capacity since 2009.

“We have been particularly encouraged by the interest shown by new venues in hosting a race during 2020,” an F1 spokesperson said. 


Warren Gatland: ‘Now or never for rugby union to agree global season’

Ben Coles has written a piece on Warren Gatland’s belief that it is ‘now or never’ for a global season to be agreed between all parties from both hemispheres . You can read the whole thing here. Here are some of Gatland’s quotes:

A lot of this has been talked about for a long time and if they can’t have a consensus now when they basically have a blank sheet of paper to start from, then there is never going to be agreement.

We have a serious crisis, a global crisis, but sometimes that gives you an opportunity to put things right in certain areas where things can be better for the future. The possibility is that the game could look at it itself in terms of a global structure and a global season. If they don’t do it now then they are never going to do it.

It is not going to be perfect for everyone and part of the thing about alignment is that people have to compromise a bit, there has to be a bit of give and take.


‘Support your club. Stay safe. Follow at home’

Jason Burt has all the latest on the Premier League’s restart right here. Here’s a taster:

The Premier League is planning to promote the slogan “Support your club. Stay safe. Follow at home” when football returns next week.

Clubs will also be urged to remind fans not to congregate at a stadium during a match. The fear of this happening was one of the major reasons why the controversial use of neutral venues was considered.

It is now hoped that all of the remaining 92 fixtures will be played on a home and away basis although the situation will remain under review.

The Premier League’s slogan is an echo of the one used by the Government at the start of the coronavirus lockdown that read: “Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives”.


‘Outdated video game images are causing laughter worldwide’

Ahead of the Seville derby last night, our man Sam Dean spoke to La Liga’s audiovisual director, who declared the league’s “virtualised fans” technology to be so good that it could be used in the future, even when supporters are allowed back into the ground.

It’s fair to say, the verdict has not been so overwhelmingly positive. You can read Sam’s latest piece on La Liga’s broadcast revolution here. But here’s what FASFE, the national supporters organisation in Spain, had to say:

One of the objectives, according to the government, of allowing the return of La Liga in a simulated soccer version was to give a good image of our country. It did not go well. The outdated video game image seen on TV is causing laughter around the world.

Judge for yourselves:


Olympic sponsor worries 

Two-thirds of Tokyo 2020’s corporate sponsors are undecided on whether to continue supporting the Games now the event has been pushed to 2021, according to a new survey.

In the poll published on Thursday by Japanese public broadcaster NHK, 65 per cent of the sponsors surveyed said they had not made up their minds about whether to extend their financial backing for another year.

According to NHK, some companies voiced concerns that their promotional activities around the Games could be curtailed due to crowd-reduction measures imposed against the coronavirus.

They were also worried the Games could be scrapped altogether, with several senior Olympic officials saying the Tokyo Olympics must take place next year or not at all.

Many also said they had not decided whether to extend their sponsorship because they had not yet opened negotiations with the organisers – suggesting they may be open to persuasion.

Tokyo chief executive Toshiro Muto revealed on Friday that the organising committee had not contacted the sponsors due to the coronavirus state of emergency that was declared in Japan just after the Games were postponed in late March. However, he sought to ease their concerns that the Games would not take place.

“I don’t think there is anyone who can really promise that the Olympics and Paralympics will be held in 2021 for sure – 100 per cent in any circumstance,” he admitted.

But he stressed that the sponsors should be assured of the “commitment and dedication” from the organising committee to “somehow holding the Olympics.”

Tokyo 2020 “Gold” sponsors include such Japanese household names as Canon, NEC and Asahi Breweries, while car giant Toyota is a worldwide Olympic sponsor.

According to the latest version of the Tokyo 2020 budget, local sponsorship was due to bring in $3.3 billion, more than half the projected revenues of $5.9 billion.

For its survey, NHK surveyed 78 Olympic and Paralympic sponsors, receiving responses from 57.



Elite athletes in Scotland have been given the go-ahead to return to training in groups under social-distancing guidelines

The Scottish Government has approved plans for professional, performance and Olympic/Paralympic athletes to return to organised sessions following talks with sportscotland, which has published detailed guidelines.

Stewart Harris, the chief executive of sportscotland said: “We all want to see sport return as soon as it is safe to do so but the most pressing priority at this time remains public health and well-being.

“We have been working closely with our partners including the Scottish Government and SGBs (sports governing bodies) to develop guidance, appropriate to Scotland, which follows the route-map through and out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Following the announcement of the move into phase one of the route-map on May 28, a number of outdoor non-contact sports were given approval to issue guidance to their communities to allow appropriate physical activity and exercise to take place.

“Our collective ambition has always been to progress both community and performance sport simultaneously and approval has now been given to allow commencement of the first stage of a return to professional/performance sport for athletes, coaches and support staff.

“This will allow engagement in outdoor, individual or group training, with appropriate physical distancing and health and hygiene measures in place. It will also allow travel to outdoor training sites beyond the current Scottish Government guideline of broadly five miles.

“These measures are very positive steps forward for the sport sector as we seek to rebuild our systems at all levels. Alongside our partners we will continue to play our part to ensure the transition back to sport, both in local communities and at a performance level, is as safe and effective as possible.”

The guidelines include stipulations that indoor facilities remain closed to the public; a ban on spectating other than for adults supervising children or vulnerable adults; limits on participants to ensure social distancing; regular cleaning of equipment and removal of non-essential equipment such as benches and scoreboards. Detailed sport-specific guidelines have also been published.

Non-contact sports such as tennis and golf returned for the general public with restrictions when phase one was introduced in late May, while the Scottish Rugby Union this week confirmed its players would be invited to BT Murrayfield for individual training from June 22.



Rugby transfer confirmation: Cobus Reinach joins Montpellier

South African World Cup winner Cobus Reinach has joined Montpellier on a three-year deal, the Top 14 club said today.

The 30-year-old scrum-half, who has won 14 caps for the Springboks, spent the last three seasons with the Northampton Saints where he established himself as one of the league’s best players.

“Cobus is a world champion, with outstanding athletic qualities,” said Montpellier coach Xavier Garbajosa.

“He is very skilled, both in kicking and passing.”

Northampton Saints' Cobus Reinach scores their first try 

Cobus Reinach in action for Saints

Action Images

Montpellier finished the Top 14 season in eighth place after the National League ended it early amid the COVID-19 crisis after 17 games.


Supporters want Manchester City-Liverpool to go ahead at the Etihad

Liverpool supporters’ group the Spirit of Shankly has asked for input into the decision on where next month’s match against Manchester City should be played.

The fixture on July 2 is the only Premier League match in the rearranged 2019-20 calendar without a confirmed venue.

Manchester City Council’s safety advisory group will decide whether the Etihad Stadium can be used for the match, and SoS says it is vital fans are given a voice in the discussions.

Earlier this week the safety advisory group for Liverpool City Council gave the go-ahead for the Merseyside derby to be played at Goodison Park on June 21, which had been the only other fixture with an unconfirmed venue.

On May 29 the UK’s football policing lead, Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts of South Yorkshire Police, said local forces had requested five matches to be played at neutral venues.

These were the Manchester City v Liverpool match, the Merseyside derby, Manchester United v Sheffield United, Manchester City v Newcastle and Newcastle v Liverpool.

The latter three are all listed to be played at the regular home venue on the Premier League’s website, with only City v Liverpool now listed as “TBC”.

The Premier League is set to resume on June 17, with Aston Villa taking on Sheffield United and City hosting Arsenal.



More on the F1 news:

Formula One will not visit Azerbaijan, Singapore or Japan this year but organisers remain confident of staging between 15 and 18 grands prix.

F1 announced on Friday morning that it would not be possible to put on races this year on the street circuits in Baku and Singapore, nor at Suzuka.

A statement read: “As a result of the ongoing challenges presented by Covid-19, we and our promoters in Azerbaijan, Singapore and Japan have taken the decision to cancel their races for the 2020 season.”

Earlier this month an eight-race European calendar was unveiled to get the delayed 2020 season under way, but the plan is to add a further seven to 10 events before the end of the year.

It is hoped the full calendar will be finalised before the season-opening race at Austria’s Red Bull Ring on July 5.

That grand prix will be the first of two races on consecutive weekends at the track in Spielberg, before a Hungarian Grand Prix on July 19 and two races at Silverstone on August 2 and 9.

Further races will follow in Spain, Belgium and Italy – with eight races the minimum needed to determine a world champion.

F1 had then been hoping to shift to Asia and the Americas, but managing director Ross Brawn on Thursday suggested further European races could be added due to the difficulty of organising events around the world as nations come through the coronavirus pandemic at different rates.

“There is a contingency to have an extended European season with another one or two races if needed,” Brawn said on the F1 website. “I think Bahrain and Abu Dhabi will be the backstop of the season from what we can see at the moment.

“That gives us 10. We’ll find at least five or six good races in the middle.”



Olympics update: 80 per cent of venues secured for next year’s Games, says Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto

Tokyo 2020 organisers announced on Friday that 80 per cent of the venues required to run a successful Olympics have been secured ahead of next year’s rearranged Games.

In the original plan for the Olympics due to start next month, 43 venues, including eight new sites built for the Games, were included.

The National Stadium, set to host the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, is one of the venues that has been successfully secured for 2021. 


F1 news: Azerbaijan, Singapore and Japan races all cancelled 

This year’s Azerbaijan, Singapore and Japanese Formula One Grands Prix have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organisers announced today.

Formula One had already cancelled four other races, including the showcase Monaco Grand Prix in May, and published a revised and shortened provisional schedule due to start in Austria on July 5.

“As a result of the ongoing challenges presented by COVID-19, we and our promoters in Azerbaijan, Singapore and Japan have taken the decision to cancel their races for the 2020 season,” Formula One said in a statement.

The long lead times required to construct the Singapore and Azerbaijan street circuits made hosting those events impossible, it added.

Singapore Grand Prix organisers said “prohibitions imposed on access and construction of the event venue” had forced the cancellation of the spectacular night race.

“Apart from the closure of the event venue, other challenges include ongoing mass gathering and worldwide travel restrictions,” they added.

Singapore has nearly 39,000 COVID-19 cases, one of the highest tallies in Asia due to mass outbreaks in cramped migrant worker dormitories in the city-state.

“In Japan, ongoing travel restrictions also led to the decision not to proceed with the race,” said Formula One.

Japan’s round of the MotoGP championship, which was due to take place on Oct. 18 at Motegi after the F1 race at Suzuka on Oct. 11, had already been cancelled due to the expected extension of a travel ban.

“We have made significant progress with existing and new promoters on the revised calendar and have been particularly encouraged by the interest that has been shown by new venues in hosting a Formula One race during the 2020 season,” the F1 statement said.

A second race in Italy has been mooted for Ferrari-owned Mugello or Imola, once home of the San Marino Grand Prix, while Germany’s Hockenheim and Portugal’s Algarve circuit in Portimao are other possibilities.

Sochi in Russia could host two races.

“We are confident in our plans to have between 15-18 races by the time our season concludes in Abu Dhabi in mid-December and expect to publish the finalised calendar before we start our season in Austria,” said Formula One. 



More on Pakistan’s squad:

Pakistan have named a squad of 29 to tour England later this summer.

The trip does not yet have official dates or venues but will be held in August and September, consisting of three Tests and three Twenty20s.

The Pakistan Cricket Board had previously announced that Mohammad Amir, Haris Sohail and Hasan Khan would be unavailable, leaving head coach Misbah-ul-Haq to place “one eye on the future”.

Uncapped 19-year-old batsman Haider Ali is a notable inclusion, while experienced seamer Sohail Khan has been recalled for the first time since 2016.

Azhar Ali will captain the Test side, while Babar Azam will lead the T20 team.


Pakistan have named their squad to face England in August and September


Commonwealth Games: Athletes to be allowed to take a knee in protest, says Games chief

Athletes competing in the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England will be allowed to take a knee in support of worldwide anti-racism movements, competition organisers said.

Several major sports organisations have moved to allow protests at their events following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died on May 25 after a white policeman knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed athletes are still banned from protesting at the Olympic Games but Commonwealth Games organisers said they would respect people’s rights to voice their opinions.

“The movement is challenging all institutions to really look introspectively at what we can do to be more fair, more free, have better equality. Sport is no different,” Commonwealth Games chief executive David Grevemberg told reporters yesterday.

“We are comfortable with the uncomfortable conversation and we need to embrace it. We maybe have more responsibility because of the shared history of the Commonwealth so we need to find solutions that don’t build walls but rather build bridges.”

Grevemberg said athlete protests have long been a part of the Commonwealth Games, citing the example of former Australian sprinter Cathy Freeman, who wrapped herself in the Aboriginal flag after winning the 200 and 400 metre races in the 1994 Games. Freeman went on to win the 400 metre race at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, afterwards draping herself in both the Aboriginal and Australian flags.

“The reason her moment was so powerful at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 was because of what she did in Victoria in 1994,” Grevemberg added. 



Good morning, some cricket news from India to start the day

By Reuters

The Indian Premier League (IPL) could be played behind closed doors as last resort, if that is the only way to save this year’s Twenty20 tournament from falling victim to the coronavirus epidemic, a senior cricket board official said.

The tournament had been scheduled to begin in late March but was indefinitely postponed following the outbreak.

The Indian cricket board (BCCI) stands to lose $525 million in revenue if it cannot stage the 2020 edition of the franchise-based league and BCCI president Sourav Ganguly assured members this week that they were exploring “all possible options”.

“If it can be with spectators, we’d ideally want that,” BCCI treasurer Arun Singh Dhumal said.

“But if we have to stage it in empty stadiums and there’s no other choice, we might go for that. We’ll try and work out depending on the situation at that point in time.

“But before anything else, we have to have a window available and a clear-cut directive from the government (to go ahead).”

Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma, second right, and teammates celebrate their win in the VIVO IPL T20 cricket final match between Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings in Hyderabad, India, Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma celebrates winning in the IPL final


India on Friday reported a total of 297,535 coronavirus infections, surpassing the United Kingdom to become the fourth worst affected country in the world.

The pandemic also jeopardises this year’s Twenty20 World Cup with hosts Cricket Australia conceding the tournament’s October-November schedule was under “very high risk”.

The BCCI has said it would consider slotting IPL in that window should the World Cup be postponed, but the International Cricket Council would not take a call on the fate of the flagship tournament until next month.

“Whatever decision has to happen should happen well in time,” Dhumal said.

“If that tournament is not happening, other boards can decide whether they want to have some bilateral tournament or something else to make up for the loss they have incurred because of the pandemic.”

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