UFC

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) mixed martial arts promotion has confirmed that UFC 249 will go ahead at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida on May 9 in what will be a behind-closed-doors event.

UFC 249 will be headlined by an interim lightweight title bout between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje. It will mark the first of three behind-closed-doors shows at Jacksonville’s 15,000-seat arena, with subsequent events scheduled for May 13 and May 16.

UFC 249 had been due to take place on April 18 at an undisclosed venue but the event was postponed until further notice due to COVID-19 at the request of broadcast partner ESPN.

UFC president Dana White said: “I can’t wait to deliver some great fights for the fans. I want to give a big thanks to Mayor Curry, VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena and Florida State Boxing Commission Executive Director Patrick Cunningham for getting this thing done and giving us a venue to put on these incredible cards, as well our media partners including ESPN and ESPN+, for bringing it to fans. My team is ready to go and the fighters are excited to get back in there with these back-to-back events.”

Following the initial postponement of UFC 249, White said that events would be held at the UFC APEX facility for the “foreseeable future”. UFC opened its APEX facility, located next to the organisation’s headquarters in Las Vegas, back in June.

White is seeking to make UFC the world’s first major sports organisation to return to a normal schedule amid COVID-19 and has previously discussed plans to secure a private island to host subsequent fights over the coming months.

White told ESPN that he is still hopeful of hosting international fights on a so-called ‘Fight Island’ from June. These events would also be held without fans and the location of the island has not yet been disclosed.

“Fight Island should be up and running in June,” White said. “So I should be able to start running international events in June. From May 9 to May 23, we’ll knock out four shows. And then in June we can start international stuff on the island.

“… We really are putting an Octagon on the beach. There’s going to be training facilities there for people. There are hotels. And the whole island is going to be built, all the infrastructure is going to be built for the UFC to come do fights there.”

Eredivisie

The Dutch Football Association (KNVB) has confirmed that the 2019-20 Eredivisie season will not be completed, with no team to be crowned champion.

Ajax and AZ Alkmaar had been level on points at the top of the table before the season was suspended last month due to COVID-19. The decision to cancel the domestic season comes after the Dutch government extended a ban on the staging of major public events by a further three months.

UEFA Champions League and Europa League places for next season will be awarded on the current league positions. There will also be no promotions or relegations between the top two divisions.

It was decided that continuing the season behind closed doors would not be a viable option as matches would require a permit and police presence.

It marks the first time since 1945 that the Eredivisie will not have a league champion.

Ekstraklasa

One league that looks set to finish its 2019-20 season is the Polish Ekstraklasa, which is hoping to resume its campaign on May 29.

The Ekstraklasa will look to complete its season by July 19, with matches to go ahead behind closed doors. The decision comes after Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki gave the league the green light to return.

Ekstraklasa president Marcin Animucki said: “This is great news. The government’s consent to resume training gives us a chance to implement the plan we have been working on for the last four weeks together with experts within the crisis staff. Unless unexpected adversities arise and the health situation in the country allows it, after passing the preparation period the league could start on May 29.”

The latest dates given by UEFA, football’s European governing body, recommend that leagues should look to try and finish their domestic seasons by July 20.

ECB

The UK government has asked the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to research how major sports can successfully stage events behind closed doors in the coming months.

ESPNcricinfo reports that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has requested the ECB to “facilitate research and discussions” with other sports such as football to ensure that seasons can be completed.

ESPNcricinfo noted that the reputation of both Steve Elworthy, the ECB’s director of special projects, and Nick Peirce, the body’s chief medical officer, makes the organisation ideally placed to explore options.

ECB chief executive Tom Harrison said: “The ECB has been asked to lead by DCMS across football, horse racing, tennis and rugby. There has been a lot of communication between sports, particularly around health, as we are trying to guarantee safety. I had a conference call with the head of the FA and the RFU about a range of topics: working together; how we share information about playing behind closed doors. I’m speaking to the Premier League later. We’re facing very similar challenges and taking decisions as a sector.”

Image: Nichos