Sports venue sector braces up to COVID-19
Coronavirus has come as the biggest curse for mankind in 2020 and has had a disastrous effect on the world with people living on the edge. The sports venue sector has also been hugely affected with sporting events impacted globally. With events canceled or postponed, revenue streams are drying up.
The coronavirus pandemic has shuttered global sport due to which the sports and entertainment sector is bleeding white. The coronavirus cases to date worldwide stands at 3,337,826 and the death count – 235,577.
However, amidst the entire din, although few games have been canceled or postponed, few are readying to hold events behind closed doors.
State of flux
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said recently that it would be “difficult” to hold the Tokyo Olympics if the coronavirus pandemic is not contained.
The Japan PM’s remark comes in the wake of Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori telling mediapersons that the Olympics will have to be canceled if the coronavirus pandemic isn’t brought under control by next year.
Abe told Parliament, “We must hold the Olympics as a testament to humanity’s victory over the coronavirus. If we’re not in such situation, it’s difficult (to hold) the Games,” he said, and stressed on the need to develop vaccines and drugs.
“We’ve been saying we will hold the Olympics and Paralympics in which athletes and spectators can participate safely and in a complete form. I think (the Olympics) cannot be held in a complete form if the pandemic is not contained,” he added.
The pandemic has already forced a year-long delay of the Games, which are now scheduled to open on July 23, 2021.
Mori also underlined that the Games could not be delayed until 2022 if the pandemic remains a threat next year – “In that case, it’s canceled,” he asserted before mediapersons.
When the delay was announced last month, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided the Tokyo Games would not be held beyond the summer of 2021.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Friday he was leaning towards extending the country’s state of emergency for about a month as experts said coronavirus restrictions should remain in place until the number of cases falls further. The emergency is now due to expire on May 6 but Abe said the situation remains tough and further cooperation is needed from Japanese citizens.
French Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 canceled
Olympique Lyonnais and other Ligue 1 clubs are furious and are considering legal action after the French Football League (LFP) confirmed that the domestic 2019-20 league seasons will end, declaring Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) as champion.
The LFP arrived at the decision on April 30 following French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announcing on April 27 that no professional sport will be played in the country until September at the earliest.
“The 2019-2020 seasons of professional sports, especially that of football, will not be able to resume,” said Philippe on April 27 while announcing France’s plans to exit confinement.
“To give event organizers visibility, I want to make it clear that major sporting and cultural events, in particular festivals, major trade fairs, all events that bring together more than 5,000 participants and are, therefore, the subject of a declaration at the police headquarters and must be organized well in advance, cannot be held before September,” he asserted.
France’s primary football competition – Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 – stands canceled after following the PM’s announcement as COVID-19 has also left France devastated.
Ligue 1 is a French professional league for men’s association football clubs. Administrated by the Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP), Ligue 1 is contested by 20 clubs and operates on a system of promotion and relegation with Ligue 2. Seasons run from August to May.
No matches have been played in the top-tier Ligue 1 and second-tier Ligue 2 since March 9 this year 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 utilizing a system determining the average points per game amassed from matches played to date.
For Ligue 1, this made Paris Saint-Germain Football Club 12 points clear of Olympique de Marseille at the time of suspension, champion with an average point’s tally of 2.52. Marseille (2.0) was declared runner-up, enough for Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League qualification.
Paris Saint-Germain Football Club is a French professional football club based in Paris. Olympique de Marseille is a French professional football club based in Marseille, France. Olympique Lyonnais or Lyon is a French professional football club based in Lyon, France. It plays in France’s highest football division, Ligue 1.
Toulouse (0.46) and Amiens (0.82), the bottom two clubs, have been relegated, with Lorient, as champions, and RC Lens promoted from Ligue 2. The usual promotion and relegation play-offs between the leagues have been scrapped.
Lyon, which was placed seventh in Ligue 1, has not taken lightly to the aforementioned decision as it faces being out of European competition next season for the first time in over two decades. Lyon could yet qualify for Europe by defeating Paris Saint Germain in the Coupe de la Ligue final, but the future of this match, along with the Coupe de France final, is yet to be decided.
In a statement issued following the LFP’s announcement, Lyon said: “The Government position did not seem to impose such a definitive ban on Ligue 1 and Ligue 2, as the Minister of Sports Roxana Maracineanu had previously indicated the possibility of playing in August if the evolution of the health situation allowed it. Olympique Lyonnais then proposed as early as Tuesday that the league studies an alternative solution that would allow the championship to end and thus preserve the fairness inherent in any sporting competition and be in line with UEFA’s proposals based on sporting merit according to objective, transparent and non-discriminatory principles.”
“In view of the decision taken by the French Ligue 1 Championship, Olympique Lyonnais reserves the right to appeal against that decision and claim damages, in particular in respect of loss of opportunity and in the light of the case-law of other professional sports which is currently underway, since the damage to the club amounts to several tens of millions of euros.”
Lyon’s has found supporters in Toulouse and Amiens, with the Presidents of both the clubs indicating that they will appeal against relegation from Ligue 1. However, the LFP is confident that its decision holds up legally as it prepares for the 2020-21 seasons. “There might be appeals but our decisions are solid,” said LFP director general Didier Quillot.
The LFP now hopes to start the 2020-21 campaign by August 22-23, 2020, at the latest, likely behind closed doors to begin with. “If playing without spectators is allowed, we will try to play the cup finals in early August,” Quillot maintained.
The French President, Emmanuel Macron, wants the rest of Europe’s top five leagues to follow suit.
Media reports stated that France’s Sports Minister, Roxana Marancineanu, has been in constant touch with representatives in England, Spain, Germany and Italy in a bid to convince them to follow the French example by canceling their respective 2019-20 competitions.
The French Government argues that such a move would ensure some level of parity with next season’s calendars.
France’s National Rugby League (LNR) also decided to end its 2019-20 seasons on April 30, but a decision is yet to be arrived at on how to finalize the current table.
With nine rounds of games left to play in the current season, Bordeaux Bègles were eight points clear in the Top 14 standings, while Stade Français found itself bottom of the table. The season was suspended in mid-March, with the LNR and chiefs of clubs in the Top 14 and second-tier Pro D2 now electing to end the season.
“We propose to declare that this 2019-20 season is at an end and focus on organizing the launch of the 2020-21 editions of the two championships from September 2020,” the LNR statement read.
The LNR elected to shelve plans to hold a final phase of matches at the end of August, adding it will make a decision on the final standings in the coming days.
The Bordeaux Bègles is a French rugby union team playing in the Top 14, the first level of the country’s professional league system. Stade Français Paris is a French professional rugby union club based in the 16th arrondissement of Paris. The club plays in the Top 14 domestic league in France and is one of the most successful French clubs of the modern era.
To date, the coronavirus count in France stands at 167,178 and the fatalities – 24,376.
The German Bundesliga will not return on May 9 as previously hoped after the German Government delayed a decision on the league’s return until next week.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the heads of the federal States held a video summit on April 30 to discuss the impact of coronavirus on the country.
The Head of Chancellery, Helge Braun, and the Federal State Chancelleries are now set to bring in a draft resolution for the next ‘Bund and Lander’ meeting between Merkel and the leaders of the Federal States on May 6.
Last week, the German Football League (DFL) said it would be ready to return on May 9, however, the DFL made it clear that the decision was not in their hands but in the hands of politicians.
The restart of Bundesliga on May 9 is now shelved. The Bundesliga is a professional association football league in Germany and the football league with the highest average stadium attendance worldwide. At the top of the German football league system, the Bundesliga is Germany’s primary football competition.
The German Football League tweeted, “The DFL of course accepts that on April 30, no decision was made on the resumption of Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2,” adding that the league and clubs will continue their preparations for restart of the season in May.
The league, which last played in early March, still has nine match days left to complete the season. Bundesliga clubs continue to train in small groups but have yet to resume full team training and some coaches have called for at least 10 days of team training before the first match will be played.
The DFL confirmed on Thursday that they have begun testing Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 players for the coronavirus. Players and staff from each club will be tested up to two times a week, an estimated total of 20,000 tests until the end of June, taking up less than 0.4 percent of Germany’s current weekly testing capacity.
German football wants to finish the season by June 30 this year to avoid running into legal trouble with loan deals and contracts ending that day.
While the league’s precautions to prevent the coronavirus were greenlighted at the Sports Ministers’ conference as well as by the Ministry of Labour, few decision makers felt the time was not right to discuss a Bundesliga return ahead of other measures.
“Playgrounds closed, kindergartens closed, Bundesliga is back. It just doesn’t fit,” Brandenburg’s Minister President, Dietmar Woidke, observed.
With the easing of lockdown in Germany, there has been a spike in coronavirus cases – cases increased by 1,639 in Germany, the daily rate of increase ticks up 1.0 percent from a 0.9 percent rise seen on April 30. The death toll rose by 193 vs 173 seen a day before.
The coronavirus cases to date in Germany stands at 163,162 and the death toll – 6,632.
United States (US)
Closed door events
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) has become the latest major US sports organization to detail restart plans, with the historic circuits of Darlington Raceway and Charlotte Motor Speedway set to host events behind closed doors from May 17.
NASCAR suspended its season on March 13, with only four of its 36 scheduled races completed, and wants to complete its full schedule. The initial return announced on April 30 will kick off a slate of races running through to May 27 that includes seven events in three series at the two race tracks.
The top-tier NASCAR Cup Series will return to Darlington Raceway (in South Carolina, US) on May 17. This will be followed by a unique schedule that includes midweek races in primetime TV slots and a NASCAR crown jewel – the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (North Carolina in US) – in its traditional Memorial Day Weekend home for the 60th consecutive season.
Following “thorough collaboration” with public health officials, medical experts and State and Federal officials, NASCAR said it has implemented a comprehensive health and safety plan. Nearly every aspect of how its events are conducted will be significantly modified, including one-day shows; mandated use of personal protective equipment; health screenings for all individuals prior to entering the facility, while inside the facility and exiting the facility; social distancing protocols; and strict limits on the number of individuals who are granted access into each facility.
“NASCAR and its teams are eager and excited to return to racing, and have great respect for the responsibility that comes with a return to competition,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice-President and Chief Racing Development Officer.
“NASCAR will return in an environment that will ensure the safety of our competitors, officials and all those in the local community,” stated
Steve O’ Donnell.
The United States is fighting a very hard battle to contain COVID-19 and is presently the coronavirus hotspot. Till date, the coronavirus figures in US stands at 1,099,275, and the death count – 63,972.
Status: Closed door events from May 17
A five-step schedule from the league and Poland’s Football Association has been given the go-ahead after weeks of planning. The Polish Ekstraklasa is set to resume in May end after a plan from the league and the country’s football association (PZPN) was approved by the Polish Government.
The Ekstraklasa is the top Polish professional league for men’s association football teams.
Marcin Animucki, President of the board of the Ekstraklasa, says play could start again on May 29 if the five-step plan goes ahead as planned:
- The first step of the process has already been implemented. On April 20, all players and coaching staff from the Ekstraklasa’s 16 teams went into self-isolation at home, a phase which will continue for two weeks with clubs sending daily health reports.
- The second step is due to come on May 4, when sports facilities will open for groups of up to six people and players can begin the process of returning to training.
- The third step in the process sees classrooms and school facilities reopened, with clubs hoping they will be allowed to organize individual training with their players at their home stadiums, which they argue is a less risky environment than an open park.
- The fourth step sees facilities including gyms, fitness clubs and swimming pools reopened with sporting events allowing up to 50 people back on the table, meaning team training could resume.
- A specific date for this stage, or the final stage which sees the resumption of the Ekstraklasa, has not yet been set but it seems likely to come in May end.
Players and coaches would have to undergo coronavirus tests before returning to training, with the same tests mandatory for referees and match officials before any game can get going.
“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 past four weeks together with experts within the crisis staff,” said Ekstraklasa chief Animucki.
“Unless unexpected problems arise, and the health situation in the country allows it, after passing the preparation period the league could start on May 29,” Animucki added.
The coronavirus figures in Poland stand at 13,105 and the total deaths – 651.
Status: Resuming in May-end
The top two men’s professional football leagues in South Korea are set to begin on May 8 following a two-month delay to the start of the season caused by the fatal respiratory disease.
The Korea Football Association (KFA) has announced the top-flight K League and the K League 2 will both kick off their campaigns – behind closed doors – on May 8.
Strict measures have been put in place that will include no fans at games and will also bar players from talking to their teammates, opponents or referees during matches, while coaches and other matchday staff have been ordered to wear masks.
Measures have also been put in place to deal with a case of coronavirus in a player or coach during the season.
If any player of coach tests positive for COVID-19, the club will not take to the pitch for at least two weeks. Opponents could also stop playing matches for a fortnight, depending on the results of contact tracing.
A rise in COVID-19 cases in South Korea had forced the KFA to indefinitely postpone the start of the season, which had been scheduled to begin on February 29th .
The KFA decision comes following a meeting of its Board with club representatives. The KFA has not thrown any hints when stadiums will be opened to fans.
South Korea, which has reported in excess of 10,000 cases of COVID-19 (10,774 to date) and 248 deaths till date, has been patted on the back for the way it has tackled the deadly virus.
Status: Resuming on May 8, 2020
United Kingdom (UK)
RFL & Rugby League World Cup
The Rugby Football League (RFL) has today secured an emergency loan from the UK Government as an “exceptional” measure designed to buttress the organization and the sport, as it prepares to host the 2021 Rugby League World Cup.
The Government has announced an emergency loan of £16m (€18.3m/$20.1m) to be administered by the RFL, in collaboration with Sport England and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
The domestic season was suspended on March 16 and in its announcement, the DCMS highlighted rugby league’s importance to the communities in which it sits, and the boost that will be provided to the sport and the North of England by staging three World Cups – men’s, women’s and wheelchair – in the autumn of 2021. The Government’s manifesto included a commitment to delivering a successful tournament, with significant financial support already provided.
Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, stated, “This is a massive shot in the arm to secure the survival of rugby league. We recognize that many RFL clubs operate on very tight financial margins. Without their ability to stage matches with spectators and despite the Government’s extensive economic package, the professional game has come very close to collapsing.”
Dowden added, “Sports across the board are facing unprecedented pressures, and we are supporting them through wider Government measures. In this case, we are intervening as an exception, not to save an individual business or organization, but to protect an entire sport, the community it supports, the World Cup held here next year and its legacy for generations to come.”
The World Cup is set to run from October 23 to November 27 next year. The finals of the men’s and women’s tournaments will be held at Manchester’s Old Trafford football stadium.
Ralph Rimmer, Chief Executive of RFL, maintained, “In these very tough times for the country and huge demands on Government, this is confirmation of why rugby league is important – our USP – the sport’s significant social impact in Northern communities in particular. Rugby league is not a wealthy sport but is rich in the things that matter most – outstanding sporting and life chances in often disadvantaged communities. The effects of lockdown at the start of our season genuinely threatened the survival of our clubs at all levels and their ability to continue delivering those positive social and economic impacts.”
All Super League, Championship and League 1 clubs based in England are eligible to apply for funding.
To date, the coronavirus cases in UK are 171,253 and the casualty count – 26,771.
Russian Premier League organizers have defined plans to resume the season on either June 21 or June 28 this year as it looks to complete the final eight match days of the 2019-20 campaign.
The Russian Premier League is the top division professional association football league in Russia.
The Russian Premier League has been suspended since March 17 due to the COVID-19 outbreak and at the start of the month it was declared that the season would not return until June 1 at the earliest.
UEFA, football’s European governing body, has suggested that domestic seasons be completed by August 2 this year to determine the participants of the Champions League and Europa League for the 2020-21 seasons.
The Russian Premier League has now offered clubs two possible return dates in June. The June 21 return date would start with one round per week for the first two matches followed by five match days on a twice-weekly basis. The June 28 option would see one round of fixtures scheduled for the first match day followed by seven rounds on a twice-weekly basis.
The Russian Football Union (RFU) will also take a decision soon on the possible resumption of the Russian Cup.
The coronavirus cases in Russia to date are – 114,431 and the death count – 1,169.
Status: Resuming in June 2020
Elsewhere in Europe, the Czech First League is hopeful of resuming its season on May 25, with clubs set to meet on May 12 to give go-ahead to the plan.
The Czech First League is a Czech professional league for football clubs. At the top of the Czech football league system, it is the country’s primary football competition.
The league still needs to play six more rounds of regular-season fixtures and the end-of-season play-offs, with the campaign having originally been scheduled to finish in June.
As per the proposal, matches would be played behind closed doors and all players would be tested for COVID-19. The proposal would require Government nod as up to 130 people would need to be positioned in the stadia when matches resume.
The Czech Republic, also known as Czechia, is a landlocked country in Central Europe. The coronavirus cases in Czechia stand at 7,689 and the death toll – 237.
Status: Resuming on May 25, 2020
In South America, the Argentine Football Association has ended its season and no clubs will be relegated from the top-tier Superliga. The 24-team Copa Superliga knockout tournament has also been canceled as a result of the suspension, although only one round of matches had been played so far.
Argentine Football Association President Claudio Tapia said the top-tier Superliga would be expanded in the absence of relegation over the next two seasons. The league’s current format sees relegation determined by a ‘promedios’ system, which calculates points-per-game averages over a three-year period.
Tapia informed that this system would return in 2022, adding that the decision is has been taken to provide financial security to clubs.
The Argentina national football team represents Argentina in men’s international football and is administered by the Argentine Football Association, the governing body for football in Argentina.
The coronavirus cases in Argentina to date are 4,428 and the death figures – 218.
COVID-19 is the biggest disaster to hit the sports world in 75 years and amidst canceled events, even though plans are in place to hold few closed door events with strict measures in place, but many sports executives believe there will be lasting disruption. The willingness of spectators to rush back to packed stadiums will also be tested.
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