UFC Fight Island

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has announced that Abu Dhabi will be the destination for its much-touted ‘Fight Island’ concept.

Fight Island has been put forward by UFC president Dana White in recent weeks as a means for the mixed martial arts promotion to use its international fighters, for whom entering the United States is currently an issue due to restrictions relating to COVID-19.

The UFC’s deal with the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) will see events held on Yas Island, one of the emirate’s most popular leisure, shopping and entertainment destinations.

UFC will produce four events on Yas Island, including one pay per view – UFC 251 – and three Fight Nights. The schedule begins with UFC 251 on July 11, and will be followed with successive Fight Night events to be held on July 15, July 18 and July 25.

To accommodate existing public health guidelines, DCT Abu Dhabi will create a safety zone within the nearly 10 square mile Yas Island that will include an arena, hotel, training facilities, and dining establishments. This safety zone will only be open to UFC athletes and their coaches; UFC staff and other event personnel; and Yas Island employees who are necessary to ensure the operation of the facilities.

The UFC was forced to postpone six events from March through to April due to the global pandemic, but has returned to a more consistent schedule following its comeback event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida on May 9.

White said: “We came up with the idea of having fights on Fight Island because we needed a destination to hold international events during the global pandemic. Abu Dhabi has been an amazing location to hold fights over the past 10 years and it is the perfect place for these events.

“The infrastructure we are building will be such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the fighters that’s never been done before – from the arena, the private training facility and the Octagon on the island – it’s going to be an experience that none of us will ever forget.”

The Fight Island deal comes after UFC and DCT Abu Dhabi in 2019 entered into a five-year partnership to bring events to the emirate. UFC 242: Khabib vs Poirier, the first event held under the new agreement, attracted more than 14,000 fans to Yas Island last September.

The agreement to bring Fight Island to Abu Dhabi is an expansion of the original five-year contract, with UFC having previously held events in Abu Dhabi in 2010 and 2014. HE Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of DCT Abu Dhabi, said: “Our partnership with the UFC, now in its second year, has proved to be one of our most successful ventures in recent years.

“We have worked closely with all government entities in Abu Dhabi to ensure that the staging of this historic event complies with the highest standards of safety for the athletes, coaches, and all UFC personnel as well as the safety of our community.

“This year, Abu Dhabi has successfully proven its ability to handle all challenges and promote the well-being of its visitors and residents; and today, we are here to showcase the best that our capital has to offer, as we look forward to opening our doors once again to the world.”

Super Rugby

Rugby Australia (RA) has today (Wednesday) announced that Super Rugby will return in the country on July 3, thanks to a revised deal with broadcast partner Fox Sports.

With COVID-19 having shutdown Super Rugby’s traditional 15-team, three-conference system after seven rounds, the respective members of the SANZAAR umbrella body of rugby unions have been seeking to devise domestic tournaments.

New Zealand’s Super Rugby Aotearoa is set to commence on Saturday and it will now be followed by Super Rugby AU. The five-team competition, which features the four Australian Super Rugby teams plus Western Force, which lost its Super Rugby licence from the 2018 season, will kick off on July 3 and be contested over 12 consecutive weekends.

The competition will involve 10 weeks of round robin action, with teams to face-off twice and have two byes each, before a two-week finals series featuring a Qualifying Final on September 12 and a Final on September 19.

The new season will get underway with the longest-running rivalry in Australian rugby when the Queensland Reds host the NSW Waratahs at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on July 3. All matches will be played at closed venues, with RA stating it will regularly review its position regarding spectator attendance in line with government restrictions.

Rugby Australia interim CEO, Rob Clarke, said: “Our focus is now back where it should be, getting Vodafone Super Rugby AU up and running next month and watching our five Australian teams go head-to-head in week after week of Aussie derby action.

“Fans can also expect to see something different during the new season, as we use the opportunity to innovate and push the boundaries and we look forward to showcasing a new brand of rugby throughout this 12-week competition.”

Super Rugby AU will mean rugby union becomes the third major Australian sporting code to resume amid COVID-19. Aussie rules football league the AFL is due to resume its 2020 season tomorrow (Thursday), while rugby league’s NRL Premiership returned on May 28.

MLS

Major League Soccer has today revealed its full plan to return to action with the MLS is Back Tournament.

The 2020 season will be restarted with all 26 MLS clubs competing at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida beginning on July 8. The tournament will be played without fans in attendance.

MLS last week confirmed it planned to resume its 2020 season with a tournament in Orlando, but did not spell out the exact nature of the event. The MLS season has been suspended since March 12 following the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We are pleased to team up with Disney to relaunch the 2020 MLS season and get back to playing soccer,” said MLS commissioner Don Garber. “The opportunity to have all 26 clubs in a controlled environment enables us to help protect the health of our players, coaches and staff as we return to play.”

MLS has a longstanding relationship with ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. The league held its 1998 preseason at the complex, and hosted events for the 1998 and 2019 All-Star Games at the facilities.

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

“Sports have the power to unify and inspire, particularly during challenging times,” said Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products. “And we’re looking forward to bringing this exciting sport back to millions of fans, while prioritising the health and well-being of the players, coaches and support staff as well as our cast members.”

Clubs will begin arriving in Orlando as early as June 24 for preseason training. Clubs that can conduct full team training in their markets in-line with the league’s medical and testing protocols must arrive no later than seven days before their first match.

Similar to a FIFA World Cup format, the tournament will feature a continuous schedule of matches nearly every day, with games beginning at 9am, 8pm and 10:30pm EDT. The vast majority of the matches will be played in the evening.

Each team will play three group stage matches, and those results will count in the 2020 MLS regular season standings. After 16 consecutive days of group stage matches, the top two teams from each group along with the four best third-place finishers will move on to the knockout stage.

The knockout stage will include a Round-of-16, Quarter-finals, Semi-finals, and the Championship match will take place on August 11. In addition to matches that count in the regular season standings and the CONCACAF Champions League berth, players will have the opportunity to earn additional bonuses as part of a $1.1m (£862,000/€967,000) prize pool.

Upon completion of the MLS is Back Tournament, the league said it plans to continue its regular season with a revised schedule in home markets, followed by the MLS Cup Playoffs and the 25th MLS Cup.

Ligue 1

The format of the 2020-21 Ligue 1 season is unclear after France’s highest administrative court suspended the relegation of Amiens and Toulouse, while rejecting Olympique Lyonnais’ appeal against the French Football League’s (LFP’s) decision to terminate the 2019-20 campaign.

The ruling from the Conseil d’État yesterday (Tuesday) came after the three clubs launched legal action against the LFP’s decision on April 30. The decision by the LFP was set up after French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced that no professional sport would be played in the country until September at the earliest.

No matches had been played in the top-tier Ligue 1 and second-tier Ligue 2 since March 9 following the COVID-19 outbreak. The LFP announced the end of the season following a board of directors meeting, confirming the final league tables for Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 utilising a system determining the average points per game amassed from matches played to date.

For Ligue 1, this made Paris Saint-Germain, 12 points clear of Olympique de Marseille at the time of suspension, champion with an average points tally of 2.52. Marseille (2.0) was declared runner-up, enough for UEFA Champions League qualification, while Stade Rennais (1.79) finished third and also qualified for the Champions League. Fourth-placed Lille OSC (1.75) will play in the Europa League.

Toulouse (0.46) and Amiens (0.82), the bottom two clubs, were relegated, with Lorient, as champions, and RC Lens promoted from Ligue 2. The usual promotion and relegation play-offs between the leagues were scrapped. Lyon, which was placed seventh in Ligue 1, took issue with the decision as it faces being out of European competition next season for the first time in over two decades.

The Conseil judge yesterday upheld the LFP’s decision to end the season, but moved to suspend relegation, which potentially means Ligue 1 could have 22 clubs in 2020-21. A statement summarising the ruling read: “The judge considers that the Ligue’s administrative board could not legally rely, in deciding to relegate the last two of the Ligue 1 ranking, on the fact that the current agreement concluded with the French Football Federation (FFF) provides for a limit of 20 clubs, while this agreement ends on June 30 and a new agreement will have to be signed.

“The judge therefore orders the LFP, in conjunction with the competent bodies of the FFF, to re-examine the question of the format of Ligue 1 for the 2020-21 season, in the light of all the elements relating to the conditions in which this season is likely to take place, and to draw the consequences as to the principle of relegation before June 30.”

Reacting to the verdict, the LFP said that it is “delighted” that its stance on the season termination has been backed up. It added: “The decision to stop the championships on April 30, taken in the general interest of professional football, was the only possible decision.

“The Ligue also takes note of the request of the Conseil d’État to re-examine in connection with the FFF the question of the format of Ligue 1 for the 2020-21 season by June 30, 2020.”

Commenting on the club’s reprieve from relegation, Amiens president Bernard Joannin told the AFP news agency: “I feel like football’s values have won. For every employee, those in the academy, professional players, it’s extraordinary because they are people and families who were scared they would lose their jobs. It’s a big satisfaction, I always said the league’s decision was unfair and incoherent.”