President Trump told commissioners of the US pro sports leagues on Saturday he thinks the NFL should stay on schedule and kick off in September, according to ESPN. Leaders from the four major pro sports leagues — the NBA’s Adam Silver, MLB’s Rob Manfred, the NFL’s Roger Goodell, and the NHL’s Gary Bettman — along with executives from the WNBA, MLS, PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, IndyCar, Breeders Cup, and WWE, according to a White House pool report. Trump told the commissioners he “hopes to have fans back in stadiums and arenas by August and September,” according to ESPN. The NBA shut down March 11, right after it was announced that Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus. It was the first pro league in North America to stop playing games. Silver, the NBA’s commissioner, told Trump on the call that the NBA would “love to lead the way” in restarting games, but that an “ ‘all clear’ from public health officials" had to come first, according to ESPN. The NHL, the only other major pro league playing games in March, shut down soon after the NBA. Following the NBA and NHL’s decisions, Major League Baseball closed down spring training and sent players home. The NFL has altered its offseason plans, including shifting the draft scheduled to begin April 23 to a virtual format, but has kept most of its league schedule intact. In a message posted on Twitter, President Trump also reassured Little League baseball players they would be playing the game again soon. “To all of our youth who are missing the start of their @LittleLeague seasons, hang in there! We will get you back out on the fields, and know that you will be playing baseball soon,” the president tweeted.
Astros’ Verlander to donate weekly pay
Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander says he will donate his weekly paycheck during the coronavirus shutdown to organizations that are helping with relief efforts. Verlander and wife Kate Upton made the announcement in an Instagram post. The couple said it would pick an organization each week and highlight its work. The AL Cy Young Award winner is among a group of major leaguers getting $4,775 a day for 60 days, a total of $286,500. Verlander’s salary this year is $33 million, which is $177,419 a day for the 186-day season. The payments were part of a recent agreement between Major League Baseball and the players’ union on how to proceed during the stoppage . . . Potters Corner held on in a computer-simulated race to win the Virtual Grand National. The real Grand National Steeplechase, one of the iconic sporting events in Britain, was canceled on March 16 following the stringent measures put in place during the coronavirus pandemic. The 18-1 Potters Corner, trained by Christian Williams with teenager Jack Tudor onboard, withstood the challenge of runner-up Walk In The Mill and third-place Any Second Now. Favorite Tiger Roll, who would have been chasing a third straight win in the real race, was fourth in the event broadcast on British television.
FIFA extends age limit for Olympics
FIFA has extended the age limit for the men’s soccer tournament at next year’s Tokyo Olympics, ensuring players who would have been able to compete in the 2020 Games retain their eligibility in 2021. The criteria for the rescheduled Tokyo Games remains the same: All players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 will have the opportunity to suit up for their countries, essentially turning what has been under-23 tournament since 1992 into an under-24 event. Should the US qualify a men’s team for the first time since 2008, its biggest star will be eligible to play. Christian Pulisic — as is the case with another surefire Olympic draw, France’s Kylian Mbappe — was born in 1998 and would have been under the age limit anyway. As always, each of the 16 teams in the field may also select three players over the age limit for their rosters. There is no age limit for the women’s tournament. FIFA also confirmed no international games for men or women will be played in June. A pair of women’s World Cup tournaments — the under-20 World Cup set for Central America in August and September and the under-17 World Cup scheduled to be played in India in November — were also postponed. For the Tokyo Games, 14 of 16 nations have already secured their spots: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Egypt, France, Germany, Ivory Coast, New Zealand, Japan, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Spain, South Africa and South Korea will compete. The final two spots in the field will be filled by CONCACAF nations, which is the only federation yet to complete its Olympic qualifying tournament . . . Stephen Kenny was named the new Ireland soccer manager after replacing Mick McCarthy in a planned move brought forward by the coronavirus pandemic. McCarthy had originally been due to stay in charge until July 31, after the Euro 2020 finals — now put back a year — were originally due to finish. Kenny had been set to take over on Aug. 1 after being in charge of the under-21 national side . . . Tajikistan has started a new soccer season, joining a small group of countries around the world where play has continued despite the coronavirus pandemic. Istiklol Dushanbe retained the Central Asian nation’s season-opening Super Cup with a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Khujand. The game was played without fans and a large banner reading “stop coronavirus” in Tajik and Russian covered part of the stands. Tajikistan has not reported any cases of the new coronavirus, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University . . . Rafael Callejas, the former president of Honduras who was convicted in a FIFA soccer bribery scandal, has died. Callejas, who governed Honduras from 1990 to 1994, pleaded guilty in 2016 to soliciting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in the wide-ranging FIFA soccer scandal over lucrative broadcast rights. He died while he was being held in prison in Atlanta. No cause of death of was given but he reportedly suffered from leukemia. He was 76.
McLaughlin wins virtual Indy race
Scott McLaughlin, whose real IndyCar debut is on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, didn’t let that stop him from learning how to virtually drive open-wheeled race cars. The Australian V8 SuperCars champion, who drives for legendary car owner Roger Penske in Australia, won IndyCar’s virtual race from virtual Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, the second race in the series’ attempt to create content during the worldwide shutdown of sports. Penske had planned to give McLaughlin his series debut in May on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but the plan was scrapped when the IndyCar season was suspended last month. McLaughlin, like NASCAR’s seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who finished 12th, was as an invited guest by IndyCar in the iRacing Series, but had to wake up at 2 a.m. in Brisbane, Australia, to compete on his simulator. It was 6 a.m. at McLaughlin’s house when he virtually crossed the finish line. He beat Team Penske driver Will Power, a fellow Australian who was racing from his home in North Carolina, Scott Speed and IndyCar rookie Alex Palou, racing on a simulator in Spain. NBC Sports aired the race on its cable channel with its usual broadcast crew of Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy all calling action from their respective homes.