Sports fans again will be able to fill stadiums in New Zealand after the government Monday removed restrictions on public gatherings imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced New Zealand will move from midnight Monday to alert level 1 under which life returns almost to normal, though border restrictions remain in force.
New Zealand has succeeded in eradicating the coronavirus; as of Monday it had no active cases of COVID-19 and hadn’t recorded a new infection for 17 days.
At a news conference Monday, Ardern said alert level 1 means that public events can take place “without limitation,” including sports events. Stadiums will be able to accommodate fans without regulations around social distancing.
One of the immediate beneficiaries will be the Super Rugby Aotearoa tournament which begins June 13. The tournament involves New Zealand’s five Super Rugby teams, which will meet each other home and away over 10 weeks.
The opening match between the Highlanders and Chiefs potentially could be played in front of 25,000 fans at the Highlanders’ roofed stadium in Dunedin.
In announcing the impending move to level 1 last week, Ardern said some precautions would still be necessary at sporting events.
“All gatherings of any size can occur,” she said. “However, we are working with ticketing agencies and large scale event organizers on a COVID code whereby contact details are collected so that we can keep a track of people at large gatherings in the event that we need to follow them up for contact tracing.
“For those larger events it is a matter of preparedness for us. We may be confident that we’re an environment where we do not have COVID in circulation. But if we have a situation where even one case emerges, and it’s found that they had been in attendance at a large event, we always have to be prepared to be able to contact trace successfully.”
International sporting events are still ruled out. Ardern said Monday New Zealand’s borders will remain closed to prevent the virus returning.
Revolution return to full-team practice
The New England Revolution returned to full-team training in Foxborough for the first time since MLS suspended play March 12.
“The first day of training was good,“ said coach Bruce Arena. “You can’t expect too much on Day 1, but we have approximately four weeks to get our team ready for real competition. We’re going to work hard and get there, but I was impressed with the effort today.”
The team worked out at its new training center.
“The facility is outstanding,“ said Arena. “We’re really, really pleased with the training facility and I know the players appreciate it. It allows us to do our training in a much more efficient manner, so we’re real pleased with everything here.”
The team felt secure with the new health and safety protocols, said Revolution defender Alexander Büttner.
“We get tested almost three, four times a week, so I think it’s safe to train because the results are good,” he said.
Although the new tests were not to everyone’s liking, according to Revolution defender Henry Kessler.
“There was a blood test and then the other one was a bit uncomfortable,“ he said. “You have to stick something pretty far up your nose. Those were the tests, but it’s good to have those done and make sure everyone’s healthy.”
Italy makes playoff plans
The Italian soccer season could finish without a champion if Serie A is stopped again because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Italian federation approved plans for a playoff or the use of an algorithm if the regular season cannot be finished. Serie A clubs decided Friday to ask for no champion and no relegations.
The latest plans proposed by FIGC president Gabriele Gravina were approved by a unanimous vote. Three Serie A representatives did not take part in the vote.
Serie A has been suspended since March 9. It is scheduled to resume June 20 and finish Aug. 2.
There are 12 rounds remaining, plus four matches that were postponed in the 25th round.
The format of the playoffs, including the number of teams involved, is yet to be finalized.
If matches cannot be held because of time restrictions or the pandemic worsens, playoffs are the preferred option to determine the final standings. If an algorithm is necessary, there will be no champion unless it is mathematically certain at the point the season is stopped again.
The final points tally of each team, added to the current standings, will be based on their average points from home and away matches, multiplied by the number of remaining home and away matches.
The FIGC also announced that if a team is found to have violated the strict medical protocol established for resuming matches, it could face sanctions ranging from a fine to being excluded from the championship — depending on the severity of the infraction.
If the season cannot restart June 20, the FIGC has until July 10 to decide whether it can restart. It has been allowed until Aug. 20 to finish.
The top two men’s divisions are the only ones set to resume their regular seasons. The women’s Serie A will not restart.
NCAA looks at football practice plan
The NCAA will consider a six-week plan for football teams to prepare for the start of their seasons that includes two weeks when teams can hold walkthroughs before full practices start.
A copy of the the Football Oversight Committee’s one-page plan, which still needs to be approved by the Division 1 Council, was obtained by the Associated Press.
The oversight committee has been working on a six-week model to lead into the season for weeks. It calls for two weeks preceding the start of a typical preseason practice schedule during which time teams can do up 20 hours per week or weight training, conditioning, film study, meetings, and walkthroughs with coaches. Players would not be permitted to wear helmets and pads during walkthroughs, but a ball could be used for instruction.
NCAA rules state teams can begin preseason practice 29 days before the date of their first game. The walkthrough period would begin 14 days before preseason practice, according to the proposal.
The plan has not been finalized but could be approved within two weeks.
Wisconsin ready for athletes
The University of Wisconsin is permitting the voluntary return of football and volleyball players for initial health assessments and COVID-19 testing this week to clear the way for them to begin voluntary strength and conditioning activities June 15.
The men’s and women’s basketball teams will return later this month, followed by the men’s and women’s hockey teams.
Strength and conditioning activities are being altered to reduce health risks. Each station will have sanitation supplies. The weight racks will be spaced out and will be used by only one individual per session. Conditioning sessions will take place outside unless poor weather prohibits it.
Before arriving on campus, all athletes will undergo nasal swab testing for COVID-19. They will be tested again if they report symptoms, or if they’re believed to have contacted someone who tested positive. Athletes will be screened daily before entering athletic facilities, and athletes and staff will wear masks at all times other than during conditioning activities.
At Iowa, the school announced that one person tested positive for COVID-19 out of 237 tests performed on athletes, coaches, and athletic department staffers to prepare for the beginning of voluntary individual workouts.
The school did not reveal who tested positive. Iowa says the school began testing May 29. Football players were cleared to begin voluntary workouts Monday, mostly weight training and conditioning, in team facilities.
Iowa says the person who tested positive will be isolated and quarantine will be prescribed for individuals who might have been exposed to that person.
Meanwhile, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association will lift its dead period next week to allow for in-person workouts for prep athletes.
The organization announced it would allow limited workouts beginning June 15, though education agencies must also permit it at a local level.
Restrictions for the first phase of return include having workouts of no longer than 90 minutes, with no more than 25 people at outdoor venues and no more than 10 in gymnasiums. They also require daily temperature checks and social distancing, along with instructing schools to keep the same groupings of athletes working together each time.
Locker rooms and weight rooms remain closed for now. The restrictions include no shared use of athletic equipment. Guidelines for future phases will be developed and shared at a later date.
ATP hosts online fund-raiser for coaches
Want a tennis lesson from coaches who work with Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, or Roger Federer? Or how about from a former coach and player such as Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker, or Goran Ivanisevic?
Bidding is open through June 29 for a fund-raising auction organized by the ATP and ATP Coach Program to sell private coaching lessons. The money will be used to help tennis coaches who lost the chance to work while the tours have been suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Some donations will also be given to a global COVID-19 relief fund.
US Tennis slashes costs, payroll
The group that runs the US Open tennis tournament is eliminating 110 national positions and reducing travel costs over the next few years to deal with the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
The US Tennis Association also announced Monday that it will close its headquarters in White Plains, N.Y., and shift remaining staff to an as-yet-undetermined location in the state.
Other budget-trimming moves include merging player development and facilities departments, and hosting only one in-person meeting per calendar year from 2021 to 2023.
Logano, NASCAR reach out to fans
NASCAR fans won’t be allowed to attend when the Cup Series races at Martinsville Speedway on Wednesday night, but the sport’s impact will surely be felt by Henry County residents the next day.
The Joey Logano Foundation, the NASCAR Foundation, and Elevation Outreach are partnering to bring a Convoy of Hope to Martinsville, Va., with the goal of providing 40,000 pounds of food and supplies to approximately 1,000 families during a drive-thru distribution at NASCAR’s oldest track.
The effort is similar to one conducted at Darlington Raceway in May.
“After seeing how impactful Darlington went, we quickly moved forward and scheduled our next event with Convoy of Hope in Martinsville,” Joey Logano, chairman of his foundation, said in a release.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced NASCAR to pause its season in March. The race at Martinsville will be the seventh since the series went back to racing without fans last month.
Brighton to fill seats with ‘fans’
English soccer club Brighton is offering fans the chance to have cardboard cutouts of themselves in the stadium when the Premier League resumes. Fans need to send in a photo wearing a Brighton jersey and pay $25.
Games in the league will be closed to spectators for the remainder of the season because of the pandemic.
Five of Brighton’s nine remaining games are at home. The first is June 20 against Arsenal.