COVID-19 event news: NBA, Tokyo Olympics and Premiership Rugby


The National Basketball Association’s (NBA’s) Board of Governors has approved a restart plan for its suspended 2019-20 season that will see the North American league resume on July 31 with all remaining games played at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports complex near Orlando, Florida.

The Board’s approval is the first formal step among many required to resume the season, which was suspended on March 11 due to COVID-19. The NBA is working to finalise the restart plan with the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), with the players’ union due to vote on the plan later today (Friday).

The NBA and the NBPA are working with infectious disease specialists, public health experts and government officials to establish a program to prevent and mitigate the risk related to COVID-19, including a regular testing protocol and stringent safety practices.

The season restart is also contingent on an agreement with The Walt Disney Company to use Walt Disney World Resort, where ESPN Wide World Of Sports is based, as a single site for a campus for all games, practices and housing for the remainder of the season. The NBA confirmed last month that it was in preliminary talks over such a plan.

Based on the competitive format that the NBA Board approved, the 22 returning teams would be the 16 teams (eight per conference) in current playoff positions and the six teams that are currently six games or fewer behind the eighth seed in their respective conferences. Those two groups comprise teams with the NBA’s 22 best records.

This will mean the season is over for Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves, Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls and Charlotte Hornets. The vote was 29-1, according to the Associated Press news agency, with only the Portland Trail Blazers opposing the plan.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said: “While the COVID-19 pandemic presents formidable challenges, we are hopeful of finishing the season in a safe and responsible manner based on strict protocols now being finalised with public health officials and medical experts.

“We also recognise that as we prepare to resume play, our society is reeling from recent tragedies of racial violence and injustice, and we will continue to work closely with our teams and players to use our collective resources and influence to address these issues in very real and concrete ways.”

The 22 clubs are now set to play between 71 and 75 games before the playoffs begin, down from the customary 82-game schedule. Once the 16-team field is set, the NBA Playoffs are set to proceed in a traditional conference-based format with four rounds and best-of-seven series in each round.

The NBA Finals are envisioned to end no later than October 12, with December 1 set as the likely start of the 2020-21 regular season.

Tokyo 2021

A senior member of Tokyo’s local organising committee (LOC) for the Olympic and Paralympic Games has today suggested that March would be the latest date by which a decision on a potential cancellation of the rescheduled event would need to be made.

The comments from Toshiaki Endo, a LOC vice-president, are said to be the first made in public by an executive member of the organisation regarding when a decision could be made, as Tokyo organisers continue to grapple with COVID-19’s impact on their preparations.

Japanese news agency Kyodo News reported that Endo, a lawmaker and former Olympic Minister, said at a meeting of his Liberal Democratic Party: “Selecting athletes by around next March will be a major challenge. The organising committee will need to make some kind of a decision considering the situation at that time.”

Tokyo’s Olympic Games, originally scheduled for this summer in the Japanese capital, will now take place from July 23 to August 8, 2021, it was confirmed in March. The Paralympic Games will then follow from August 24 to September 5. The announcement came after Tokyo 2020 was officially postponed earlier in the month due to the pandemic.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach last month admitted that the Tokyo Games would need to be cancelled if they cannot be held next year. Endo said he has confirmed with the IOC that no deadline has been set on making a decision.

However, he added: “There are still many estimates, and it is unclear what the new coronavirus situation will be next summer. It is still too early to discuss whether to hold (the Games) or not.”

Endo’s comments come after it was reported yesterday that Japan is considering simplifying the staging of the Games. The changes could include a reduction in the number of spectators and scaling back the opening and closing ceremonies.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said: “We hope to work with the government and the Tokyo organising committee to look into what can be rationalised and simplified. It will be necessary in order to gain empathy and understanding from the public.”

Premiership Rugby

Premiership Rugby has today announced it is targeting August 15 for the resumption of the top division of English club rugby union.

No matches have been played since March 8 due to COVID-19, with nine rounds of the 2019-20 regular season still remaining.

At a board meeting last night, the target restart date was agreed following the announcement earlier this week that Premiership clubs can move to Stage 1: Elite Sport Return to Training.

Darren Childs, chief executive of Premiership Rugby, said: “Nothing will happen until it is safe to do so but we will do everything we can to resume the 2019-20 Gallagher Premiership Rugby campaign on Saturday 15 August.

“We won’t take risks with people’s health, and rugby has unique challenges due to levels of proximity and impact, but with a number of clubs moving to Stage 1, it is important for us to give players, coaches and clubs clarity on when they can look to return. Bearing that in mind, we look forward to the restart of the season.”

Premiership Rugby added that the structure of the 2019-20 season will follow in due course.

Image: ESPN Wide World of Sports