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Coronavirus notebook

MLS return stuck at negotiating table

Members of the LA Galaxy and the rest of MLS have agreed to play in Orlando, Fla., but haven't gotten together on the rest of the details.
Members of the LA Galaxy and the rest of MLS have agreed to play in Orlando, Fla., but haven't gotten together on the rest of the details.Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

Players from several Major League Soccer teams skipped voluntary workouts Monday after the league and the players’ association hit an impasse on an agreement that would clear the way for a tournament this summer in Florida.

A person with knowledge of the negotiations said the talks between the sides were ongoing and a deadline has been pushed to Wednesday. The person spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the negotiations were not being made public.

The Major League Soccer Players Association had voted to approve economic concessions for this season, including across-the-board salary cuts. The proposal, made public by the union Sunday night, was sent back to the league for approval by team owners.

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“While a difficult vote in incredibly challenging times, it was taken collectively to ensure that players can return to competition as soon as they are safely able to do so,” the union said in a statement.

The season was suspended March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Teams had played just two games.

MLS and the players’ union agreed to terms of a new contract in early February, but it had not been ratified when the season was put on hold.

One person said, two major sticking points remain: the players accepting a lower share of TV revenue starting in 2023 and the language in a force majeure clause, which would allow the owners to withhold salaries and suspend contracts in the case of another major national crisis.

The league gave its teams the go-ahead last week to begin small voluntary group training sessions outdoors. They must follow a strict protocol, as well as local public health and government restrictions. Not all the teams have returned to training.

On Monday, players from a number of teams including Atlanta United, Inter Miami, Vancouver Whitecaps, and Minnesota United did not report to voluntary training.

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Minnesota midfielder Ethan Finlay, who is on the executive board of the players’ union, posted on social media: “Players made a CHOICE to focus their time and energy on an important decision which includes the threat of a lockout instead of volunteering to attend on-field training for a tournament we already agreed to attend. Refuse is not the word I would use.”

Details of the Florida tournament were still under consideration but the league’s 26 teams and limited staff would be sheltered at hotels with games played without fans at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World.

In addition to salary cuts, the union’s proposal includes reduced team and individual bonuses, as well as concessions to the existing and future terms of the collective bargaining agreement. Details were not immediately available.

MLS did not comment on the proposal.

MLS announced last month it was exploring possible “changes to player compensation” because of the financial hit the league and teams were facing with the extended suspension in play. The sides have since gone back and forth.

“We are seeking to work collaboratively with the MLSPA to find a solution that provides a safety net for all players, opportunity to earn full salary in the scenario where all matches are played with fans, and in particular provides protection for the players at the lower end of the salary scale,” the league said in a statement at the time.

MLS and the players’ union agreed to terms of a new contract in early February, but it had not been ratified when the season was put on hold

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MLS has been seeking to join several other leagues around the world in restarting their seasons. The German Bundesliga was the first major circuit to resume and, in the coming weeks, England, Italy, and Spain will return.

In the United States, the NWSL will have all nine teams gather in greater Salt Lake City for the Challenge Cup, starting June 27. The NWSL would become the first US team sport to return from the pandemic shutdown.

Big 12 invites athletes back June 15

The Big 12 announced its schools can begin bringing athletes back to campus, with the resumption of voluntary activities starting June 15 for football players.

The conference said each school can use its own discretion in deciding when athletes return to campus. The Big 12 had suspended all team activities, because of the pandemic through May 31. As of June 1, new rules go into effect. In-person required and voluntary team activities are still banned for all athletes from June 1-14.

Football players can resume voluntary on-campus activity June 15. Other fall sport athletes can begin voluntary on-campus activity July 1. Basketball players can participate in on-campus voluntary activities, starting July 6, and all other sports can resume voluntary activities on campus July 15.

Virtual or online supervised workouts and skill instruction are still not permitted. All required virtual or online activities, such as film study, are limited to eight hours per week and only on-field coaches may conduct those sessions.

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Live sports return to England

A mid-morning greyhound race in a virtually empty venue in the central English city of Birmingham wouldn’t typically be an occasion warranting special attention.

For English sports fans, it was a moment to savor.

When six dogs flew out of the traps at Perry Barr at 10:21 a.m. Monday, it marked the return of competitive sports in England after a 75-day shutdown because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The name of the winning dog — Im Sophie — will likely be the answer to a quirky quiz question in years to come.

Greyhound racing was the first of three sports to resume Monday, with horse racing and snooker also taking place without spectators and on the condition that competitors and officials follow government-approved coronavirus protocols.

A 10-race card was scheduled for Gosforth Park’s all-weather track in the northeast city of Newcastle, where 369 entries from competition-starved horse owners were whittled down to 120 runners. Jockeys wore face masks and adhered to social distancing regulations before and after races, and only limited personnel were allowed on the course. That meant no bookmakers or bettors, with even the owners themselves barred from attending.

Horse racing was the last live sport to shut down in Britain — on March 17.

“It’s time to return and I really feel we can come back in a safe way in a way the public can be proud of,” jockey Oisin Murphy said, adding that he and his rivals would physically feel “very close to 100 percent.”

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“But the mental sharpness will only come after a few weeks with some practice.”

The winning jockey of the first race at Newcastle, James Sullivan, said he was “blowing a bit coming in" as the finishing post approached aboard his horse, Zodiakos.

“It was hard work," he said. “That will blow away the cobwebs.”

Snooker’s Championship League was scheduled to start at 3 p.m. in Milton Keynes, north of London, with top-ranked Judd Trump in action in the first match.

There are 64 players competing in the tournament and they must all test negative for COVID-19 before entering the arena for matches.

Soccer in England is set to resume June 17 with two Premier League games.

Spanish soccer gains steam

Spanish soccer teams resumed full-squad training Monday, beginning the final stage of preparations for the return to competition.

Clubs will have just under two weeks of full sessions before the league restarts June 11, almost three months after it was halted because of the pandemic.

Training was only previously allowed with groups of up to 14 players. Clubs began individual sessions a few weeks ago and had been gradually increasing their workload.

On Monday, Barcelona showed an image of coach Quique Setién surrounded by the entire squad in training, along with the message “Together Again", and a video of Lionel Messi scoring a goal.

Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid also showed their players training in full groups.

The resumption of normal training comes a day after the league confirmed the dates and times of the first two rounds of matches following its suspension in mid-March. The first game will be between Sevilla and Real Betis on June 11.

With all remaining league matches likely to be played without fans, Madrid has decided to host games at the Alfredo Di Stéfano Stadium, the team’s training center, thus allowing renovation work at the Santiago Bernabéu to continue during the summer as originally planned.

“It would be strange to play at the Bernabéu without fans,” Fernández said. “We have practiced at the Alfredo Di Stéfano before. We will get used to it.”

All games will include an “applause to infinity” tribute to the “heroes who are fighting to overcome” the pandemic. Recorded applause uploaded in videos by fans will be played in the 20th minute of matches.

Brazilian team hit with 16 positive tests

Brazilian soccer club Vasco da Gama says 16 of its players have tested positive for the coronavirus. The Rio de Janeiro club says the positive results came after tests were conducted on about 250 people.

Three players have already recovered and the others remain separated from the group.

The club says it will begin a series of medical evaluations on squad members.

Atlético Mineiro and Cruzeiro said Sunday one player in each squad tested positive. Atlético said Ecuadorean midfielder Juan Cazares had the virus. Cruzeiro announced that forward Vinícius Popó was infected.

There is still not date set for the return of soccer in Brazil.

After players step up, Nationals pay up

The Washington Nationals’ ownership group has reversed course and will pay the organization’s minor league players a $400 weekly stipend in June, according to multiple people with knowledge of the situation. The owners had previously decided to reduce the stipends to $300 per week, then changed their minds amid social media backlash and after Nationals major league players vowed to cover the difference.

At the end of March, Major League Baseball mandated clubs to pay their minor leaguers $400 per week through the end of May as the sport remains on hiatus amid the pandemic. After that, MLB left it up to each team to decide how to proceed, and teams’ plans have trickled out over the past week. The Athletics halted all compensation for minor leaguers, but the Royals, Twins, Astros, and Reds each committed to paying $400 weekly stipends through August, when the minor league season would have ended, and did not release any players.

The Nationals remain somewhere in between those two approaches. They initially became the only known team to lower their weekly stipends while continuing to pay them. They also released 40 players at the end of last week, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, telling those who were cut that there will not be a minor league season.

Their plans changed once the major league players stepped in. At 11:02 p.m. Sunday, closer Sean Doolittle tweeted a statement on behalf of Nationals players saying they would pay to cover the $100 reduction in weekly stipends. The team met on a Zoom call shortly after the reductions were first reported by the Athletic, and Doolittle later tweeted that the decision to help was unanimous.

“After hearing that Nationals minor league players are facing additional pay cuts, the current members of the Washington Nationals Major League Baseball club will be coming together and committing funds to make whole the lost wages from the weekly stipends,” Doolittle wrote. “All of us were minor leaguers at one point in our careers and we know how important the weekly stipends are for them and their families during these uncertain times.”

By early Monday afternoon, ownership was finalizing the decision to pay the full $400 stipends. At the same time, the major league players were discussing how to collect and send money to the minor leaguers before word slowly reached them that the owners would cover it. The immediate response, among both major and minor league players, was that this should have been the plan all along and that there is still no clarity beyond June.

Rugby series to wait two more years

The first England-Australia rugby league series in 17 years has been canceled.

England’s Rugby Football League and the Australian Rugby League Commission made the joint announcement.

England was to play Australia at Bolton on Oct 31, at Leeds on Nov. 7, and for the first time at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Nov. 14.

The series was canceled because of the uncertainty over global travel, and the need to extend both countries’ domestic seasons, stalled by the pandemic.

Both governing bodies are committed to planning a series in 2022, after the Rugby League World Cup in England in 2021.

Japan MotoGP race canceled

The Japanese MotoGP has been canceled because of the pandemic. The race was scheduled for Oct. 18 at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit. Organizers say they hope to return to the same venue next year.

Japan has a big presence in the sport and is the home of manufacturers Yamaha, Honda, and Suzuki.

Organizers say this is first time since 1986 that Japan will not host a race.

MotoGP says it is trying to restart the season with races staying in Europe until November. A race in Japan after that would be too late in the season.