English sport

The UK government has paved the way for competitive sport to resume in England behind closed doors from today (Monday) as plans were outlined for football’s Championship to return to action on June 20.

The UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has worked with the Deputy Chief Medical Officers of England, Public Health England and medical representatives across various sports bodies to develop the ‘stage three’ guidance that outlines the criteria to ensure events can go ahead safely.

The first major sporting event is expected to take place on Saturday, when Newmarket Racecourse (pictured) stages the 2000 Guineas Stakes. The event will be broadcast free to air, as will a number of Premier League football matches.

Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said: “The wait is over. Live British sport will shortly be back on in safe and carefully controlled environments.

“This guidance provides the safe framework for sports to resume competitions behind closed doors. It is now up to individual sports to confirm they can meet these protocols and decide when it’s right for them to restart.

“This is a significant moment for British sport. By working with clinicians every step of the way, we are creating the safest possible environments for everyone involved.”

The key criteria outlined by the government states that all competition delivery partners and user groups must travel individually and by private transport where possible. COVID-19 screening processes will also be carried out, a one-way system will be set up for the movement of people and vehicles, social distancing will be maintained where possible and all non-essential activities such as catering should be limited.

The latest announcement comes after the government published its stage two guidance on May 25, which allowed elite athletes to resume competitive, close-contact training at official training venues.

Following the government’s announcement, the English Football League agreed to a provisional restart date of June 20 for matches in the second-tier Championship.

The EFL said the date is subject to the “strict proviso” that all safety requirements and government guidance is met. The EFL stressed that this date was chosen after discussing various approaches and takes into account the importance of completing the season in a similar timeline to the Premier League, which is set to resume on June 17.

‘Battle of the Brits’

Plans have been announced for a ‘Battle of the Brits’ exhibition tennis tournament featuring Britain’s top-ranked male players, with the event to be held at the Lawn Tennis Association’s National Tennis Centre in Roehampton from June 23-28.

The event is being co-organised by Jamie Murray, alongside Schroders and Amazon Prime Video. The event will feature Jamie and Andy Murray, Dan Evans and Kyle Edmund, who will compete in singles and doubles competitions. Eight singles players and six doubles teams will compete in total.

The event will be streamed by Amazon Prime Video in the UK and Ireland, and on Eurosport and Tennis Channel in the US. The tournament will be followed by the first of four new British Tour events taking place over consecutive weeks from July 3-26.

LaLiga

LaLiga has confirmed that the top division of Spanish club football will return on June 11 with the derby match between Sevilla and Real Betis.

LaLiga hopes to finish the season by July 19, with 11 match days still needing to be completed. Matches are set to be played every day of the week to ensure that the season can be completed on time.

Real Madrid will reportedly play home matches at the 6,000-seat Estadio Alfredo di Stefano ground as it carries out renovation work at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The announcement means that resumption dates have now been set for the top divisions in Spain, England and Italy, with the German Bundesliga season having already resumed. The Premier League is poised to resume on June 17, with Serie A targeting a June 20 return date.

Coppa Italia

Italian football will resume before June 20, though, after June 17 was confirmed as the date for the Coppa Italia final.

The semi-finals are set to take place in the days before the final, with all dates for both the cup and the league set to be confirmed in the coming days.

Serie A will resume with four ‘catch-up’ matches, which were due to form part of the 25th round of fixtures but were postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. They are Atalanta vs Sassuolo, Hellas Verona vs Cagliari, Inter Milan vs Sampdoria and Torino vs Parma. The four matches will take place on the weekend of June 20-21, with a full round to be held the following week.

J-League

The Japan Professional Football League (J-League) held its eighth extraordinary executive committee online meeting with the clubs and the league’s chairman Mitsuru Murai announced later that the second-tier J2 and third-tier J3 League will resume their league campaign from June 27, while the top-flight J1 will resume its campaign from July 4 with all matches to take place in empty stadia.

According to the online football magazine Football ZONE Web, the league has decided to give about a month for the clubs to focus on their respective training and therefore the aforementioned dates have been set for resumption. The league will make further announcement in regards to the fixtures on June 15.

Although the top two tiers of the J-League had already opened with the first round of matches taking place in February, the league subsequently suspended its 2020 campaign amid the worldwide spread of COVID-19. The league then announced tentative dates in April and May hoping to resume its competitions but was then forced to re-postpone the resumption as Japan struggled to contain the spread before the national government declared a state of emergency.

Murai explained after the meeting that if the resumed matches prove to be problem-free, the league is prepared to start letting a limited number of spectators into the stadia from as early as July 10. In relation to the safety of the players, Murai said: “We have finally established a way to carry out PCR tests on all participating players without compromising the testing capacity for the general public. To do this, J-League will create a new PCR testing centre within the organisation so that all participating players as well as referees will be tested once every two weeks. In other words, J-League will centrally operate all necessary PCR tests for matches taking place in the foreseeable future.”

Football ZONE Web reports that the league will newly establish a PCR testing division within its organisational structure so that these extra tests will not exhaust the testing capacity currently prioritised for those considered high-risk such as medical personnel, the elderly, and patients with serious medical conditions. Saliva will be collected and used as sample in order to reduce the risk of contamination and inaccurate false-negative results caused by erroneous processing. Murai said approximately 100 samples could be analysed per hour.

According to the GekiSaka football news media, Murai also explained: “One of the clubs said a nearby medical centre offered to support the testing of their players and it is such a nice gesture but the league believes all tests carried out to determine whether the players can play or otherwise should be totally managed by a neutral organisation and that is why we decided to create this test control functionality within the league. Also, the standardisation of the tests, collection, analysis, and management of the samples require absolute confidentiality to protect the subjects’ privacy at all times.

“There is already a medical paper that says if a healthy but infected person runs more than 10km, it could quickly set off circulation of the virus within their body resulting in a potential development of symptoms, increase in severity, and weakening of immune system.

“Furthermore, we believe accumulating the data from our matches could help those analysing the information in preparation for next year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo later down the track. Members of the medical community also believe that the data collected from the matches will be of scientific significance so we hope we will be able to repay those supporting us through our football activities. For some of the cities lacking the PCR testing capacity, perhaps our own PCR centre could also provide necessary resources to help the community in need.”

J-League content provided by The Stadium Hub

Swiss Football League

Finally, plans have been announced for the Swiss Football League to resume on June 19.

The league has been suspended since February 23 but clubs have voted in favour of continuing the season instead of ending it. Clubs have also voted against the expansion of the league from 10 to 12 teams.

The league’s provisional plan would see the season completed by August 2, with teams to play two matches a week to ensure all fixtures are completed. All matches will be staged behind closed doors.

Image: christopher_brown