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COVID-19: KPL remains suspended indefinitely

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Gor Mahia fans cheer on their team during a past match. The fun will have to wait for now, as the country combats the spread of COVID-19. PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya

NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 2 – The Kenyan Premier League (KPL) remains suspended indefinitely as the league managers continue to wait on government directives to resume owing to the continued spread of the coronavirus.

The
government announced the suspension of any gatherings while the ministry of
sports closed down all sporting facilities as a means of combating the spread
of the virus, essentially shutting down sports all over the country.

The Football
Kenya Federation had mid last month announced that all football in the country,
including the top tier, would be suspended until the first week of April, but
the situation currently does not allow for its return.

“We had a
brief talk on Friday with some members of the Governing Council and we decided
we will not have a formal meeting, virtual or in the office until we get more
directives from the government. As at that, the league remains suspended
indefinitely until we get a way forward,” KPL CEO Jaco Oguda told Capital Sport.

“As at now,
it is a wait and see game. At this point, football is secondary to anything.
Health comes first and football will only come back when that is taken care of,”
further stated Oguda.

The league
had been scheduled to conclude on May 23, but with three match weeks now lost,
the same is expected to be stretched.

Ideally,
Oguda had disclosed to Capital Sport that they aim to finish the league
by at least June 30. With projections stating that the next one month might be
crucial, the hope of finishing up by the end of June might be short lived.

Practically,
the league managers are now open to an extension of up to August. But, Oguda
says they remain committed to finishing the season.

Gor Mahia
are currently leading the standings with 54 points, seven ahead of second
placed Kakamega Homeboyz. On the opposite end of the standings, Sony Sugar are
already relegated and there will only be one team following them down.

Zoo
Kericho, Nzoia Sugar, Chemelil Sugar and Kisumu All Stars are all in the race
to avoid dropping into that one slot.

Twenty-three
rounds of matches have already been played and there are nine remaining. Gor just
need seven wins to mathematically confirm their status as record extending champions.

With
training grounds closed down, teams have now resorted to asking their players
to train from home as they maintain fitness with hope that the world will
resume normal programming soon.

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Rescheduled Boston Marathon now cancelled – mayor

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NEW YORK, United States, May 28 – The Boston Marathon has been cancelled for the first time in the event’s 124-year history because of ongoing coronavirus fears, officials confirmed on Thursday.

Boston mayor Marty Walsh said that the race, which had already been postponed to September 14 from its April slot, would not now be held as planned for public health reasons.

“There’s no way to hold the usual race format without bringing large numbers of people into close proximity,” Walsh said in an announcement.

“While our goal and our hope was to make progress and contain the virus in recovering our economy, this kind of event would not be responsible or realistic on September 14 or anytime this year.”

The marathon has been held every year without fail since 1897, making it the longest-running major annual marathon in the world.

The other two major marathons scheduled in the US later this year — the October 11 Chicago Marathon and the November 1 New York Marathon — remain on the calendar.

The Boston Athletic Association said that entrants to the marathon could instead take part in a “virtual” Boston Marathon, anytime between September 7–14.

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Entrants would need to complete the 26.2 mile distance within six hours and provide proof of timing, a statement said.

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“Our top priority continues to be safeguarding the health of the community, as well as our staff, participants, volunteers, spectators, and supporters,” Boston Athletic Association chief Tom Grilk said in a statement.

“While we cannot bring the world to Boston in September, we plan to bring Boston to the world for an historic 124th Boston Marathon,” Grilk said of the virtual race.

Marathon racing around the world has faced severe disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The London Marathon has been postponed until October while the Tokyo Marathon took place with only a reduced field of elite runners.

The September 27 Berlin Marathon, another of the world’s major marathon races, has also been cancelled.

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How will Europe’s ‘Big Five’ look after the restart?

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PARIS, France, May 28 – Football fans in England and Italy received the news they had been waiting for on Thursday after the Premier League and Serie A got restart dates for their suspended seasons.

England’s top flight gave itself a provisional date of June 17 less than an hour before Italy’s Sport Minister announced that the country’s elite league could restart on June 20.

They will join the already-restarted German Bundesliga and Spain’s La Liga in trying to finish their seasons, but how do the leagues shape up in the coronavirus era?

German Bundesliga

— The first of the major leagues to retake the field, with only three rounds of matches played since the mid-May restart Bayern Munich already looked certainties to win their eighth straight league title.

Bayern look dead certs to win their eighth title in a row after winning at Dortmund © POOL/AFP / Federico GAMBARINI

Hansi Flick’s side are seven points clear after beating title rivals Borussia Dortmund at an all-but empty Signal Iduna Park, the third post-lockdown win in a row and one that reasserts their supremacy.

RB Leipzig, Borussia Moenchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen will fight it out for the other two Champions League places.

The league has given fans a look at what other returning top divisions will look like once back in action, with silent stadiums and strict medical protocols that enforce social distancing and make players on the substitutes bench wear face masks.

Similar measures are expected to be adopted by the other ‘Big Five’, with Spain, Italy and England all hit especially hard by the virus.

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English Premier League

— Liverpool’s bid to win their first league title in three decades was given a huge boost on Thursday when the Premier League announced a provisional restart date of June 17.

Jurgen Klopp’s side need just two wins to seal a title that looked a certainty before the coronavirus shut down global sport, having built a 25-point lead over reigning champions Manchester City by March.

However celebrations will be mooted, with no fans in the stands and the pandemic preventing the wild partying that such a victory would have otherwise provoked.

With nine matches remaining for most clubs, Manchester United, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield United are all eyeing Chelsea in fourth, while four points separate second-from-bottom Aston Villa and Brighton in 15th.

Italian Serie A

Cristiano Ronaldo will return to the Juventus line-up after Serie A was given the green light to restart the season © AFP/File / Marco Bertorello

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— Vincenzo Spadafora’s announcement of a June 20 restart should bring an end to months of bickering between the abrasive sports minister and Italy’s football authorities, and could yet see the resolution to one of the most exciting title races in years.

Speaking after a summit on Thursday, Spadafora said that the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) had assured him of a “plan B and C” should the virus crisis flare up again.

Plan B would be playoffs for top spots and relegation “playouts”. Plan C would be ending the season and assigning league positions as per where clubs were after the last match.

With 12 matches remaining for most clubs, reigning champions Juventus are a point ahead of Lazio, who are chasing their first league title in 20 years. Serie A bosses will reportedly meet on Friday to discuss a fixture list that could see matches twice a week until August 2.

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There is some scepticism as to whether the season can be completed as the medical protocol governing the return says one positive result at a club means players and staff must go into a two-week quarantine.

Spanish La Liga

— La Liga chief Javier Tebas said earlier this week that he wanted the season to restart on Thursday June 11 with the Seville Derby after it was given permission to start as of June 8.

Matches could be played throughout the week after the restart, after the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) gave the league special dispensation for the rest of the 2019-20 season.

Lionel Messi said the La Liga restart was ‘weird’ © FC BARCELONA/AFP/File / Miguel Ruiz

On Wednesday the RFEF won a court ruling allowing the body to decide which days matches could be played, but added that it would permit games being played every day for the remainder of coronavirus-interrupted campaign as a gesture of “goodwill”.

As well as matches being played behind closed doors, players will also undergo tests for the virus the day before games and will have their temperatures taken before being allowed to enter stadiums.

Barcelona lead Real Madrid by two points ahead of the restart.

French Ligue 1

— France remains the odd one out among Europe’s big leagues, as the country’s government is refusing to countenance a return to action for Ligue 1.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Thursday that “now is not the time” for professional sports league to recommence, even as he announced further relaxations to France’s virus lockdown rules.

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Paris Saint-Germain were named champions when the league was stopped on April 28, with Toulouse and Amiens relegated.

The latter two clubs have announced that they will appeal the decision at France’s highest administrative court.

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Italy’s Serie A to resume on June 20

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ROME, Italy, May 28 – Italy’s Serie A was given the green light on Thursday to resume on June 20 after a three-month absence as one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic begins to ease restrictions.

Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora said that the government’s Technical and Scientific Committee (CTS) had agreed to the health protocol proposed by Italian football chiefs.

“Italy has started to return to normal life again, it is only right that football should do the same,” said Spadafora.

“The federation assured me that it had a Plan B and a Plan C.

“In light of these considerations, the championship can resume on June 20.”

Italian football federation (FIGC) president Gabriele Gravina told the minister during the video conference that a play-off system would be used if the championship were again interrupted, while the existing standings would be used if it were stopped.

“We had a very useful meeting,” said Spadafora. “From the start, I said that football could restart once all the security conditions had been met.”

No top-flight matches in Italy have been played since Sassuolo beat Brescia 3-0 on March 9.

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One of the hardest hit countries by the coronavirus pandemic with over 33,000 deaths, Italian football now faces a scheduling nightmare, for matches which will take place behind closed doors.

Lega Serie A will meet on Friday morning to examine “the different calendar hypotheses” for the remaining Serie A and Italian Cup matches, amounting to 127 in total.

Most teams have 12 league games left to play, but there were four postponed fixtures.

Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora (centre) has given the green light for Serie A to resume on June 20. © AFP/File / Andreas SOLARO

Spadafora suggested that the Italian Cup could be concluded the week before the return to Serie A action.

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The semi-final return leg matches between Inter Milan and Napoli and AC Milan and Juventus, could be played on June 13-14 with the final on June 17.

“I also hope to be able to send a positive signal to the whole country by taking advantage of the week from June 13 to 20 to conclude the Italian Cup,” he added.

The announcement of the resumption of the Italian league comes just after the English Premier League confirmed it will restart on June 17.

The German championship has already resumed and Spain’s La Liga will return to the pitch the week of June 8.

Among the five major European championships, only the French Ligue 1 has been definitively stopped.

“I’m happy and satisfied,” said Gravina. “The restart of football represents a message of hope for the whole country.”

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But many issues remain to be resolved including match schedules, players’ contracts which end on June 30, and unpaid TV rights by broadcasters.

“Footballers are not robots, there are concerns,” said Damiano Tommasi, president of the players’ union.

“A critical issue is (playing a) match at 4.30pm which in June and July in Italy is unthinkable,” added the former Italy and Roma player.

The thorniest issue remains the two-week quarantine period in the case of a positive test, which Spadafora insisted would remain.

“The CTS agreed with the medical protocol, but confirmed the absolute necessity for a quarantine period if a player were to test positive,” said Spadafora, who did not exclude future changes to the rule.

“I’m ready to bet on the resumption of the championship, but with this rule of quarantine of 14 days, the possibilities of concluding it are not high,” said Enrico Castellacci, president of the Italian Football Doctors Association.

“It’s a crime. I’m not going to quarantine 50 healthy people. We don’t do this if there is a positive case in a factory,” argued Lazio doctor Ivo Pulcini, with the Roman club committed to a resumption of the season, as they sit just one point behind leaders Juventus.

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