Coronavirus in sport: More events cut, Olympics 'still on', Messi's message to supporters

By Sports Desk March 14, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic continued to wreak havoc on the sporting calendar on Saturday with more major events and competitions being disrupted.

With the outbreak of COVID-19 rapidly spreading across the globe, it has resulted in the postponement of competitions worldwide as governments attempt to combat the pandemic.

A small number of events still went ahead, but sports stars, teams and indeed supporters were otherwise left to find other means of entertainment.

With the number of confirmed cases worldwide now totalling over 155,000, we round up all the latest news and updates.

 

Germany's prestige friendly with Italy later this month became the latest football fixture to bite the dust, with the majority of upcoming international matches having now been wiped out.

More major organisations have halted all footballing activities until a later date, including Qatar, Morocco and Egypt.

A small number of competitions, most notably the A-League, Russian Premier League and Mexico's Liga MX, did manage to go ahead as planned.

Indeed, NRL games also avoided the cut, as did a handful of Super Rugby matches before an indefinite ban was put in place later in the day.

Another competition to fall was Australia's one-day international series against New Zealand, which was already being played behind closed doors.

With New Zealand's government introducing strict protocols to attempt to slow the spread of the virus, the Black Caps – along with Super Rugby side Highlanders – returned home from Australia and Argentina respectively in order to beat the new restrictions, which will mean any new arrival to the country, even if they are a citizen, has to self-isolate for 14 days.

With the top-four tiers of English football being shelved until at least early April, there was plenty of focus on the National League as six games were given the green light.

There was some controversy in Argentina as River Plate's Copa Superliga clash with Atletico Tucuman was suspended after the home side refused to open their stadium.

Independiente's tie with Velez Sarsfield was played out in full, albeit behind closed doors, with the hosts claiming a 1-0 victory.

In Italy, Napoli urged their supporters to sing from their balconies in unison as Fiorentina's Patrick Cutrone and two more Sampdoria players tested positive for COVID-19.

Manchester City's Benjamin Mendy revealed a negative test result after recently self-isolating, but Carlo Ancelotti and Angelo Ogbonna questioned the Premier League's handling of the outbreak, while Jordan Pickford denied reports he is self-isolating.

West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady, meanwhile, claimed the competition should be "void" – a suggestion Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher quickly dismissed.

The lack of football did not stop certain clubs from keeping supporters entertained, though, with LaLiga side Leganes posting live updates of a fictitious match against Real Valladolid, which they won 2-1.

Perhaps inspired by their Spanish counterparts, Southampton got Manchester City involved in an online game of noughts and crosses to help fill the void.

The downtime also gave football stars a chance to recuperate, with Sergio Ramos and Alexis Sanchez among those to post images of their extra-curricular activities.

Others, such as Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson and FIFA president Gianni Infantino, opted to use social media to educate their followers on how to properly wash their hands, while Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi used his profile to echo the sentiments of Cristiano Ronaldo in calling for people to follow the guidance of health organisations.

As Ronaldo and Jurgen Klopp were praised by the World Health Organisation for "protecting people from coronavirus", former United States president Barack Obama hailed a host of NBA stars – including Giannis Antetokounmpo and Zion Williamson – for donating large amounts to help support arena staff during the league's hiatus.

UFC superstar Conor McGregor labelled the pandemic "a stupid f****** virus", but later moved to clarify his aunt did not die after contracting the disease after previously suggesting as such.

And in more positive news, Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe revealed his country still plan for the 2020 Olympic Games to go ahead in Tokyo, starting in late July.

The International Olympic Committee will have the final say, but ABE is confident the Games will be staged "without problem".

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    Atalanta's 1-1 draw with Sassuolo last week meant Inter were crowned champions of Italy for the first time since Jose Mourinho's treble-winning side in 2009-10, ending Juventus' run of nine consecutive Scudetti.

    Despite leading Inter to glory, head coach Antonio Conte's future remains uncertain due to the Nerazzurri's financial situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic as owners Suning Holdings Group reportedly consider selling the team.

    Reports of a possible sale first emerged in the middle of the season and rumours regarding the Chinese owners – who acquired a majority stake in 2016 – persist amid the COVID-19 crisis.

    "It's true that the club could've been sold mid-season," former Inter star and captain Zanetti told La Nacion.

    "We were going through serious financial problems, even if we weren't the only ones in such a difficult moment.

    "I saw that as a club we can still improve. The coach has done something extraordinary over two years, now it's up to us to improve the internal mechanism and aspire to something more.

    "The financial problems remain and it could take a couple of years to rediscover that balance. We need people back in the stadium to make the sponsors happy. Basically, a return to normality.

    "We mustn't hide, it is a delicate moment, but we want this so we can take a bigger step forward. What we need is an over-reaching strategy that guarantees sustainability in the long-term."

    Conte earned his fourth Serie A title this season – only five other coaches in league history have managed at least four.

    The former Italy boss is only the second coach in Serie A history to win a Scudetto with both Inter and Juve, joining Giovanni Trapattoni.

    "Conte has brought a work ethic and mentality first and foremost," Zanetti said. "He convinced even the youngest players that his project could really work. Since the day he arrived, not a day has gone by without him thinking how to improve this team. He convinced the club to follow him.

    "There was some initial scepticism about his past at Juventus, but they learned to love him. He has been focused since the first day and accepted this challenge like a real Interista."

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    “Finally, thanks to the ministries and state agencies for the work done to get us here. While I am sure the players are overjoyed with the news, I implore them to be constantly mindful of the current local health conditions and act responsibly. While we play, let’s play our part in containing this pandemic. Let the games begin.”

    The approval was given for the format that allows clubs to train at their home grounds with the official matches to be held at central venues. Most recently, the PFJL had developed a protocol for the official matches to be held in a controlled environment based on the significant upsurge in the number of COVID-19 cases in Jamaica starting in February. However, with the success of the most recent measures that have cut back the number of new cases, all parties were satisfied that the previous model would align with the current measures.

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     “The PFJL appreciates the government’s recognition of the importance of the resumption of professional football as well as the confidence in the approved protocol and the ability to comply with these measures. The PFJL has worked with our national and regional stakeholders to develop a thorough protocol that we are confident will support and even enhance the government’s efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. We look forward to an exciting season with the Clubs and our commercial partners and to delivering quality football to our fans.”

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    "Eden needs to play regularly and get his confidence back," he added. "And you get that slowly and playing games.

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