The Matchroom Multi Sport agency has announced that snooker will be the first major UK sport to return to live televised action, with the Championship League to hold a new event at Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes.
Part of the Stadium MK complex, Marshall Arena (pictured) is a 5,000-capacity venue. The event, held behind closed doors, will be broadcast live by ITV from June 1-11.
Featuring 64-players in round-robin groups, the new-look Championship League will take place with strict rules on social distancing, COVID-19 testing and hygiene in place, in line with government guidelines. Matchroom said Marshall Arena has been selected as the venue as it has an on-site accommodation meaning no players, officials or staff will need to leave the facility once they have entered.
All 128 World Snooker Tour card holders will be invited to participate, with the top 64 who enter receiving a place in the tournament. Top players including Judd Trump, Neil Robertson, Mark Allen and Kyren Wilson have already confirmed their participation.
The total prize fund will stand at over £200,000 (€223,000/$243,000). Players will earn a guaranteed £1,000 with the winner taking home £30,000 and a place in November’s Champion of Champions. Championship League will not be a ranking event and will be promoted by Matchroom Multi Sport.
All players, staff and contractors will be virus-tested prior to entering the venue and will be in isolation until their results are known. Players will require a negative test result in order to enter the venue. They will play all group matches on one day, remaining on site throughout, and will then leave the venue.
Social distancing measures will be in place throughout the venue, while players will be seated at least two metres apart during matches and use anti-bacterial hand sanitiser before matches and avoid handshakes.
Matchroom Sport chairman Barry Hearn said: “While most other sports remain sidelined, we are ready to return from June 1. This sends out a message to the sporting world that snooker is at the forefront of innovation.
“Our first priority has to be safety and we have had detailed discussions with government in creating a set of approved guidelines for the event which will be rigorously followed. We are making this very clear to the players and everyone working on the event.
“We will be the first major sport to get back to live televised action. That’s not by chance, it’s because of the hard work and preparation we have done during the lockdown to make sure we are ready to get going again as soon as it is legal.
“Liaising with government advisors, we have prepared highly detailed health and safety documents which will be followed to the letter during the tournament. These measures surpass any others made in any other professional sport right now.”
He added: “One of the reasons we have selected the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes is that the accommodation is on site, which means that once players arrive for testing the night before they play, they don’t need to leave until their matches have finished, and they can remain isolated within the venue. It is a superb venue with ideal facilities.
“Following testing, the players will remain in an isolated environment until they are eliminated from the event. It is a group format so the group winners will leave the venue, then come back for their next group when the process begins again. Keeping players isolated at all possible times is an integral part of the procedures we are putting in place.”
The Championship League announcement comes after this year’s World Snooker Championship at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, the sport’s showpiece event, was last month rescheduled, subject to government policy, to take place from July 31 to August 16.
The 12 member clubs of Super League, the top tier of rugby league in the UK, have drawn up “three advanced models” with a view to resuming its 2020 season by mid-August.
Super League chief executive Robert Elstone said in a statement that it is almost certain that the season, suspended on March 16 due to COVID-19, would return behind closed doors. Fleshing out the proposals, which will be put to the Rugby Football League (RFL) board next week, the BBC said the goal of each model is to restart on August 16 and play six rounds of matches behind closed doors, with multiple games at a single venue over a day or a weekend.
Super League would then look to play the majority of games after October 1, in an effort to offer limited attendances at stadia according to the latest social distancing rules. The three models reportedly outline a Grand Final to be held on either November 28, December 12 or mid-January next year.
Elstone said: “Clearly, on all COVID and restart matters, the game takes its lead from Government and we need to be organised and adaptable to ever-changing circumstances if we are to get back playing as promptly and efficiently as we can. That considerable task is being led by the Super League team, supported by a group of four nominated Super League clubs and the RFL.
“In the best of circumstances, factors such as ground availability, TV selections and international travel make fixture scheduling a complicated matter. It’s even harder with a condensed calendar, restrictions on domestic and international travel and no clear indication of when the season can resume, or on the return of mass gatherings.
“Working through all that, we are now at a stage where we have three advanced models, based around a season restart date of mid-August, differentiated largely on when we expect the season to end. These plans will be refined over the short term as we learn lessons from the relaxation of social distancing, the return to work, the restart of other sports and the general trend of virus spread and control.
“Whilst it is as certain as it can be that our restart will take place behind closed doors, what is most important to you and us is when fans will be allowed back into our stadiums. Speculation on that date, and there is an absence of any well-informed ‘best-estimates’, has been factored into our fixture planning with a greater number of games scheduled towards the end of the projected season.
“In addition, work has already begun on crowd management in a COVID environment to ensure we’re as ready as we can be when the opportunity first arises.”
Earlier this month, the RFL secured an emergency loan from the government as an “exceptional” measure designed to prop up the organisation and the sport, as it prepares to host the 2021 Rugby League World Cup.
Bob Arum, founder and CEO of promoter Top Rank, has outlined his intention to resume top-level boxing in the US with an event at the MGM Grand hotel and casino in Las Vegas on June 9.
The card of five fights is intended to commence a series of twice weekly events at MGM Grand in June and July. The events would be held behind closed doors, with Arum telling the Associated Press news agency that boxers and all other people involved in the shows will be tested at least twice during fight week for COVID-19.
The scheme needs to be approved by the Nevada Athletic Commission, which meets next week to also consider two cards proposed by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) for its APEX facility in Las Vegas. Arum’s plan would require the reopening of MGM Grand and other hotels in the city, with this expected to take place in the first week of June.
“Once we get those fights in and UFC gets its initial fights in, both of us will ask for additional dates,” Arum said. “The key was getting enough testing, and we’ve got plenty of testing in Nevada to hold our events.”
Arum said fighters and cornermen will be tested when they arrive in Las Vegas the week of the fight. They will be accommodated on a “bubble” floor at the MGM Grand and only allowed out to eat at an approved restaurant in the hotel or train at the Top Rank gym.
While the 16,000-seat MGM Grand Garden arena is the traditional location for top boxing events in Vegas, Arum said his plan envisions fights to be staged in a convention area or ballroom at the hotel.
Image: Marshall Arena