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Coronavirus latest: F1 reshuffle, IOC under fire, Premier League meets, Tokyo 2020 tickets questioned, and more

Esteban Ocon of France driving the (31) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM11 Mercedes and Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM11 Mercedes battle for track position during the Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 16, 2018 in Singapore. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

An International Olympic Committee spokesperson said yesterday “no solution will be ideal”, regarding the impact of the coronavirus epidemic on Tokyo 2020.

Agence France-Press reported that the spokesperson called for support from athletes. This followed criticism of the IOC by a number of athletes and officials for the committee’s current stance that they should continue training for an on-schedule Games.

“This is an exceptional situation which requires exceptional solutions,” the spokesperson said. “The IOC is committed to finding a solution with the least negative impact for the athletes, while protecting the integrity of the competition and the athletes’ health. No solution will be ideal in this situation, and this is why we are counting on the responsibility and solidarity of the athletes.”

Spanish Olympic Committee president Alejandro Blanco was reported by Reuters to have said he would prefer the Olympics to be postponed because his country’s athletes had not been able to train properly.

Greece’s Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi had earlier stated on Twitter: “The IOC wants us to keep risking our health, our family’s health and public health to train every day? You are putting us in danger right now, today, not in 4 months.

“It’s unbelievable. What about team sports that have to train together? What about swimming? What about gymnastics, that they touch the same objects?

“There is zero consideration of the risk they are putting us in right now.”

Britain’s world champion heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson said: “I feel under pressure to train and keep the same routine which is impossible. It’s difficult (to) approach the season when everything has changed in the lead-up apart from the ultimate deadline.”

French swimming federation president Gilles Sezionale said: “I am devastated by so many inconsistencies when we should today devote ourselves solely to the epidemic to save lives!”

Canadian IOC member and former Olympic athlete Hayley Wickenheiser said: “I think the IOC insisting this will move ahead, with such conviction, is insensitive and irresponsible given the state of humanity.”

In other Tokyo 2020 news:

  • Kyodo News reported that Japanese deputy prime minister Taro Aso on Wednesday referred to the 2020 Olympics as “cursed”, during a parliamentary panel meeting. Aso referred to the cancellation of the 1940 Olympics that was due to take place in Sapporo before being cancelled due to the outbreak of the Second World War.
  • A gymnastics Olympic qualifying event in Tokyo on April 4-5, that was also a test event for the Games, has been cancelled. The Artistic Gymnastics World Cup Tokyo was potentially to feature an appearance by US star Simone Biles. It had earlier been announced it would take place behind closed doors. A rhythmic gymnastics Olympic test event on April 6 is still going ahead.
  • The aircraft that is to transport the Olympic flame from Greece to Japan took off from Tokyo yesterday. A ceremony scheduled for its departure was cancelled. The plane is due to land back in Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture, on Friday, with the flame on board.
  • Training camps for various countries’ Olympic teams across Japan have been cancelled, Japanese public-service broadcaster NHK reported.

No refunds for Tokyo 2020 tickets, report says

Japanese newspaper the Asahi Shimbun has reported that tickets to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics may not be refundable if the Games are cancelled.

The paper reported that, under the terms of the ticket sales, Games organisers are not responsible if the Olympics are prevented from taking place due to force majeure incidents including “states of emergency connected to public health.”

Japan Today reported that the news prompted a flood of questions and complaints on social media. More than 4.4 million tickets have been sold in Japan across two domestic lotteries, with huge numbers missing out after 7.5 million applied to buy tickets.

Formula 1 calendar reshuffled

Formula 1 is asking its teams to shut for a three-week period before the end of April and is cancelling its August break in an attempt to rescue the 2020 season, Reuters has reported.

The series had already been suspended, with racing expected to resume in May at the earliest. It is now planning on running races during August in order to complete the season.

The International Automobile Federation’s (FIA) World Motor Sport Council has approved F1’s proposed calendar changes.

Reuters reported that ‘multiple F1 sources’ said further measures would be discussed during a conference call today between the teams, the FIA and Formula 1 management figures. These are expected to include delaying by a year the introduction of the new technical regulations planned for 2021.

Premier League to meet about season resumption

The clubs in the English Premier League are meeting on Thursday via video conference call to discuss completing the suspended 2019-20 season and tackling the financial damage caused by the epidemic.

Reuters has reported that there are various opinions among the clubs about how to handle the situation, including quickly returning to matches behind closed doors, cutting the season short, and declaring the season ‘null and void’. Cutting short the season would lead to a drop in income from commercial partners.

All professional football in England was last week suspended until April 4.

The English Football League, which runs the three divisions below the Premier League, said yesterday it is aiming to complete the 2019-20 season, and has created a £50m ($57m) fund to help its clubs weather the crisis.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported that the Italian Serie A said yesterday it was targeting a return in May, with the season running into June and possibly July.

Sanzaar tries to reschedule Super Rugby

Sanzaar, the consortium of southern hemisphere rugby unions, is weighing up a plan to salvage its Super Rugby season. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that it would involve three rounds of matches starting April 3-4, with a finals series in June. Sanzaar is reportedly seeking approval for the proposal from the Sunwolves – the competition’s Japanese team – and broadcast partners.

Rugby Union Players’ Association chief executive Justin Harrison supports the plan, and said: “Any model that has the ability to keep everyone operating inside a ‘flattening of the curve’ healthcare response model, which puts detection, containment and control at its foundation, has merit and validity.

“While it’s true this is ‘only’ sport, we inside the game also have an employment obligation to … continue to provide opportunities for people to continue their livelihoods. That’s players, coaches, support staff and all the workers who underpin professional sport.”

International Gymnastics Federation addresses coronavirus challenge

International Gymnastics Federation president Morinari Watanabe has released a statement addressing the impact of the epidemic on his sport.

He said the federation is working with event organisers and national federations to try to reschedule World Cups and World Championships, but sometimes has had no choice but to cancel events.

He acknowledged the impact on Olympic qualification, but said “there are no basic answers”. He said, “the FIG Executive Committee will carefully review the criteria which might be not fulfilled in the Olympic qualification system, and agree on how to allocate the remaining places. This process must also involve the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has the final say”.

He said he had taken part in the IOC conference call with international federations this week, that the IOC was working with the federations to make any necessary and practical adaptations to their respective qualification systems for Tokyo 2020, and urged stakeholders in his sport to read the IOC communique that came out of the meeting.

He reiterated IOC president Thomas Bach’s statement that the committee remains determined that the Tokyo 2020 Games will go ahead.

“The current period is challenging,” Watanabe said. “Athletes are used to taking on new challenges. At the FIG, we will continue our efforts to help athletes achieve their goals in the fairest way.”

Indonesian sport shuts down

Sports organisers across Indonesia, including the football, volleyball and basketball federations, have suspended play in their events.

The moves follow a meeting last Friday hosted by the Indonesian Youth and Sports Ministry with sports federations and competition organisers. The meeting did not produce a resolution to postpone or cancel sport nationwide – government minister Zainudin Amali said the decision would be up to individual organisers. The ministry is working on a protocol for how sports should respond to the epidemic.

The football federation, the PSSI, has postponed all matches in the country’s top two leagues, Liga 1 and 2, for two weeks. The Liga 1 season was on week three, while Liga 2 had started last weekend. Futsal competitions, the women’s league and youth national team training camps have also been halted.

The PSSI promised to help league clubs that suffer financially as a result of the pause.

The Indonesian volleyball federation, the PBVSI, has moved all remaining matches in the national league, the Proliga, to one location in Bogor, West Java, to minimise risks. Proliga games will continue throughout April behind closed doors.

The Indonesian Basketball League was the country’s first major league to halt competition after last Friday’s meeting.

Indonesian badminton players and staff returning from the recent All England tournament are to be isolated on arrival in the country.

Other news

The Asian Football Confederation has postponed all AFC Cup matches until further notice. It had previously postponed the AFC Cup West Zone Group Stage matches that were to be played on March 12. The new postponement applies to all matches across the five AFC zones.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India is considering running a full, 60-match Indian Premier League between July and September, after the original March-May tournament was cancelled. The Times of India reported that the BCCI is also considering playing matches overseas if necessary.

The Pakistan Cricket Board said 100 people, including players, associated with the suspended Pakistan Super League Twenty20 tournament have been tested for the coronavirus. The PSL was called off on Tuesday after one of the overseas players in the league, England’s Alex Hales, showed coronavirus symptoms. The PCB has also closed its offices in Lahore and Karachi until Monday.

The Football Federation Australia confirmed it would play its next matches behind closed doors. Several matches involving the Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne Victory teams have been postponed – both teams recently arrived in the country from New Zealand and are under quarantine. The FFA said it is looking at playing the remaining 31 matches of the regular season in a condensed period.

Ireland’s rugby union tour of Australia in July is in doubt according to Australian rugby officials, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. Ticket sales for the matches got underway this week. A Rugby Australia spokesperson said there had been no formal talks with the Irish Rugby Football Union on the matter. RA is looking at replacing the tour with a ‘domestic alternative’. The Sydney Morning Herald said the financial impact on RA could be significant – big crowds at an Australia-Ireland tour in 2018 helped the organisation to a surplus that year. Rugby Australia is already considered to be in a precarious financial position.

In Vietnam, the Return to the Countryside Cycling Tournament, also known as the Gạo Hạt Ngọc Trời Cup, has been cancelled. The race was due to take place in May. It is one of the most prestigious cycle races in the country, and is organised by the An Giang provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, and sponsored by agricultural company Lộc Trời Group.