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Racing

Charles Leclerc beats F1 rivals, and Jenson Button, to win Virtual GP

Charles Leclerc proved that Formula 1 speed was more than effective in the world of Esports on Sunday as the Ferrari driver dominated a star-studded grid to win the sport’s second Virtual GP.

In a field which included Alex Albon, Jenson Button and cricketer Ben Stokes, Leclerc, a two-time F1 race-winner, outclassed them all as he shone in his online debut by converting his pole start into a comfortable victory around Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit.

  • Virtual GP as it happened

“It was unbelievably hard. I’m sitting in a chair at home but I’m sweating like crazy!” said Leclerc. “We always knew the driver who made the least mistakes would win as we’re all very close on pace.

“It’s obviously a very tough moment for everyone staying at home but we tried our best to entertain.”

The race was less chaotic than the virtual series’ Bahrain debut, but still provided plenty of entertainment and wheel-to-wheel battles – while all five of the F1 drivers that took part in the race, minus Lando Norris who had technical difficulties, finished in the top-10 despite their lack of sim-racing experience.

Did you know

The race took place ‘in’ Australia as Vietnam’s Hanoi track – which was due to host an F1 race this weekend – isn’t on the F1 2019 video game.

Although Renault’s Christian Lundgaard – an F3 driver – was Leclerc’s closest challenger, George Russell was third for Williams, Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi was fifth, Alex Albon was eighth in the Red Bull, and Nicholas Latifi rounded off the top-10 following a spirited fight from Button.

F1’s Virtual GP: The best bits

Leclerc cruises away from Russell off the line

Albon goes for a big spin in the Red Bull!

Ben Stokes isn’t used to bowling spin, but went for one in the race…

F1 rising star vs F1 world champion as Albon and Button battle… with both drivers spinning afterwards!

Leclerc on winning F1 bragging rights on debut, shouting next to his girlfriend, and more!

How the Sky F1 team got on – and other stars

Button, the 2009 world champion, was the top performer from the Sky F1 team as he fought bravely against the likes of Albon and Latifi during his first taste of F1 Esports.

Anthony Davidson and Johnny Herbert didn’t fare quite as well – with Ant crashing in qualifying before finishing 15th in the race, and Johnny 17th after battling with England cricketer Stokes.

Did you know

All cars on the game – from a Mercedes to a Williams – are programmed in such a way that they all have the same chance of winning

Stokes, the true novice in the field, was only four seconds off the pace in qualifying and started the race well, before a spin onto the grass early on.

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Racing

What’s it like to race in a Virtual GP? Johnny Herbert’s rookie review

He drove for seven different teams, partnered Michael Schumacher and recovered from horrific injuries to compete in 161 Formula 1 races – so it’s safe to say Johnny Herbert has encountered his fair share of challenges.

But as the popular Sky Sports F1 pundit explains, adapting to the world of Esports – with little to no practice – to battle against current F1 stars and online sim-racers in a Virtual GP was anything but easy.

  • Virtual GP: All you need to know
  • Button back with McLaren for Virtual GP
  • Norris: Head shaving, McLaren and Verstappen

In his debut, Johnny crashed in qualifying before providing one of the most memorable moments of F1’s inaugural championship Esports event as he moved from 16th on the grid to 1st… by cutting the first corner entirely.

Ahead of the second race – which is live on Sky Sports F1 on Sunday night at 8pm and has the likes of Charles Leclerc, Jenson Button and Ben Stokes taking part – we spoke to Johnny about his baptism of fire, how virtual racing compares to the real thing and his preparations for the weekend…

How confident did you feel going into the first race?

JH: “Not very! I only had five hours of practice before the race, and I’ve never really done any sim stuff before. Nor have I ever raced left-foot braking. My left ankle hardly moves [from his 1988 accident], there’s hardly any feeling there at all, but with the way these pedals are set up there’s no other way of doing it.

“I found that if I put on brake assist, that helped me a lot with my time trial before the race. I practiced doing laps and laps and laps, going flat out, and the times came down. But then went to qualifying on the Sunday and the car was completely different! F1 turned off brake assist – there’s only a few assists you’re allowed – so all the practice I’d done totally went out of the window.”

So that explains a tricky qualifying!

JH: “I crashed twice or three times in qualifying, so I actually never did a lap without any damage on my car!”

We’ve got to talk about Turn One…

JH: “There was lots of talk about the first corner – that it was going to be mayhem and there was going to be crashing all over the place. So I always knew I would have to be aware. As I was going towards Turn One, I think there was a McLaren that slammed itself into the left-hand side. I knew then that there’d be a little bit more going on as we went into Turn One itself.

“I know it’s a game, but my racing brain kicked in and said, ‘why put myself and others in danger?’. So I played safe and cut the corner – the decision was almost made before I went off the line. As soon as I saw the mayhem start that was where a thought – or some people say a ‘cheat’ [Johnny was handed a time penalty for the move] – came into effect.

“It was just keeping out of trouble. It was actually just common sense and a racing brain to say right, I’m keeping out of the way. But I benefited from it!”

Did you ever think you were going to hold onto first place?

JH: “Not a chance! I was so out of my comfort zone with the car, my braking was awful. I think I held on for about a lap but then they overtook me and I spun when I was in third or fourth. Then I got going again, and I spun again and ended up 13th.

“In my head I thought, yeah I want to hold them off, but I could just tell from what I’d been doing before and in qualifying, compared to what those guys had been doing, that I was nowhere near their pace.

“I didn’t just let them past me, I had a wheel-to-wheel battle with Zhou [who won the race], and I gave him a ram up the back when he overtook me. That damaged my front wing anyway, so that didn’t help either!

You’ve driven plenty of F1 cars, and on plenty of F1 tracks. How does this compare?

JH: “It’s never going to be the same to driving an F1 car as it’s a visual feel. It’s a different skill. You have to reprogramme your brain to how the sim is visually giving you the information, because you don’t get any sensations in a physical way. Because of these sensations disappearing, the feeling – for me – was a million miles away at first.

“But as you get used to how the game and the simulator itself works, and your technique gets better, it weirdly shifts round and starts coming back towards the real thing.

“The tracks look great, but do drive a little differently to what I’m used to. There are kerbs for example which you can use when you drive in a car, and in the game you’re thrown straight into the wall! That means you’re doing a line your brain never did.

“I raced an F1 car in Australia so I remember where you could and couldn’t clip kerbs, but in the game there are places that you can clip which are not like it was when I did it for real. So you’ve got to learn where you can clip and then take advantage of the track. A couple of gamers told me if I go through 11 and 12 – which is the very quick left and right flick – you can use a lot of kerb. When I was racing, you could never, ever do that – you’d be straight into the wall.

“It’s all about learning how the game reacts.”

It must have felt odd – as an ex-F1 driver – to get advice!

JH: “It didn’t feel normal asking for advice. I never had a driver coach during my career – I was able to work it out. This is a little bit more complicated, probably because of the limited time I had to practice. I had five hours of this, whereas I had 10 years of practice before first racing a Formula 1 car.

“I’ve tried to get a bit of advice, on where I was going slow, why does it keep doing this, and the guys have come back and been very helpful. A lot of them look like they use a lot of the back to slide and drift around the corners – I haven’t mastered that yet!

“You know you can adapt to it because others are going fast. And that’s my challenge. If they can do it, I can do it. At the moment, I’m failing! But I will get there.”

Liam Payne competed in the first race, Ben Stokes is racing alongside F1 stars this weekend. Do you think F1 has got the balance right with its grid?

JH: “Some comments I saw after [the first race] were, why don’t we have the whole grid of current drivers. Then there were others that said we need to have more gamers. But I think you’ve already got that, an F1 championship and a gaming community.

“This is serious, but a little bit of fun at the same time. I think if you had the current crop, you’d lose the entertainment. By having celebrities, sportsman, and ex-F1 drivers such as Anthony [Davidson, Sky F1 pundit], Nico Hulkenberg and myself, and the mixture of gamers, I think it adds something.

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Soccer

Sportsmail obtains exc clips of Sunderland's upcoming Netflix series

Sportsmail obtains exclusive clips of Sunderland’s upcoming Netflix series… as fans and players join forces to help change seats at Stadium of Light

  • Season two of Sunderland ‘Til I Die is released on Netflix on Wednesday, April 1
  • The documentary chronicles the club trying to get out of League One in 2018-19
  • Sportsmail has obtained exclusive clips of the series ahead of it’s official launch 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

With football currently suspended indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic, fans are left without a fix. However, as of Wednesday there will be some small respite.

Season two of the Sunderland documentary Sunderland ‘Til I Die drops on Netflix as of April 1 – in which viewers get a behind-the-scenes look at the Mackems during the 2018-19 season.

Ahead of Wednesday’s release, Sportsmail has been sent some exclusive snippets of the upcoming series.

Sunderland helped volunteers install new seats at the Stadium of Light ahead of last term

Players and volunteers join forces to remove and install new seats to give the stadium an uplift 

After being relegated from the Championship in series one, series two starts with the club trying to engage with their fanbase ahead of their League One campaign.

To do this, members of the first-team squad help revitalise the Stadium of Light by installing new seats in one of the stands to replace the old faded ones.

Club legend Lee Catermole alongside team-mates such as Chris Maguire and Luke O’Nien all lend a hand alongside volunteers too. Sunderland owner Stewart Donald also comes down to see how work is coming alone.

The idea is seen as a publicity stunt though by season-ticket holder Peter Farrer, although he admits he is suckered into falling into helping the restoration of the Black Cats’ venue.

The move was seen as a ‘publicity stunt’ by one supporter as the club prepared for League One

Ahead of series two of Sunderland ‘Til I Die, Sportsmail has obtained some exclusive clips of it

‘It’s a good publicity stunt – there’s no doubt about it and people fall for it,’ he laughs. ‘They just want something to clutch at here, that’s all. We’re clutching at straws.

‘I’m going to contradict myself here but I’m a lunatic and I’ve volunteered to help go out and change them with my mate, Jimmy.’

O’Nien, who was ribbed by some of the volunteers during the removal and installation of the seats, was effusive in his praise for the volunteers.

‘These guys have done a fantastic job. We’ve just come to show how appreciative we are of what they’ve been doing,’ the midfielder said.

‘We probably held them back, rather than actually helping them, but it’s nice to just meet them and say hello.’ 

Sunderland midfielder Luke O’Nien (right) was effusive in his praise of the volunteers’ help

Sunderland ‘Til I Die S2 launches on Netflix on Wednesday, April 1.





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Soccer

West Ham 'face prospect of playing with athletics track'

West Ham ‘face prospect of playing at London Stadium with retracted stands and athletics track’ if rescheduled Premier League fixtures clash with Anniversary Games in July

  • Rescheduled West Ham games could clash with Anniversary Games in July
  • Two-day athletics event is set to be held at London Stadium on July 4 and 5
  • Usually, retractable seating covers athletics track at Hammers home games
  • But a clash could mean fans watching on from beyond the athletics track 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

West Ham United ‘face the prospect of playing in front of retracted stands and an athletics track’ if the extended Premier League season clashes with the Anniversary Games.

The two-day athletics event is set to be held at the London Stadium on July 4 and 5, meaning Hammers fans could be further from the action than usual if they play at home around that time.

It’s likely that the football season will be extended deep into the summer as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic with Premier League fixtures potentially rescheduled for June and July.

West Ham’s London Stadium configured for a football fixture, with retractable seating covering the athletics track to bring fans closer to the action

And, according to The Sun, this will leave West Ham on a collision course with UK Athletics.

Ordinarily, supporters at West Ham home matches sit on banks of seats behind each goal that can be retracted back when athletics events are held at the London 2012 arena.

New UK Athletics chief executive Joanna Coates asked West Ham in an interview over the weekend to waive their tenancy rights to the stadium if the football season clashes with the Anniversary Games.

Coates told The Telegraph: ‘In these unprecedented times, why is it football that always comes out – with all the money that slushes around in football – as the one that doesn’t suffer? It just doesn’t seem right to me.’

The London Stadium pictured in athletics mode during the Anniversary Games event last year 

If a football match was scheduled for the same weekend as the Anniversary Games, West Ham face a potential shortfall in crowd numbers because the retractable seats couldn’t be used.

A spokesperson for the London Legacy Development Corporation said: ‘The situation is very fluid and, like many other stadiums with summer events, it is too soon to give details of future arrangements.

‘Whilst West Ham do have priority, there is also a clear obligation to work collaboratively to avoid conflicts and, if necessary, play games with the seating and track for athletics.

‘That would all be worked through when there is clarity on what plans there are, if any, for the football season.’

West Ham joint-chairman David Gold said the club would work with UK Athletics to find a solution if there was a clash between football fixtures and the Anniversary Games

West Ham joint-chairman David Gold told The Sun: ‘According to the terms of the contract, West Ham has priority when it comes to fulfilling fixtures.

‘But we would be willing to work with our partners to try to resolve an unprecedented situation.’

West Ham have five home fixtures, against Wolves, Chelsea, Burnley, Watford and Aston Villa, to reschedule when the Premier League season resumes.

HOW CORONAVIRUS HAS HIT THE WORLD OF SPORT SO FAR

2020 OLYMPIC GAMES  

The 2020 Olympic Games has been postponed until 2021 on March 24 – becoming one of the last major sporting events this summer to fall victim to the coronavirus.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe held a crucial conference call with Olympics chief Thomas Bach on Tuesday to formally decide a plan and they have chosen to postpone for 12 months.

The decision also means the Tokyo Paralympic Games will be subject to a one-year delay.

Despite the delay, the name of the delayed Games will still be Tokyo 2020, the city’s governor Yuriko Koike revealed.

A joint statement from the IOC and Tokyo 2020 organising committee read: ‘In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the WHO today, the IOC President and the Prime Minister of Japan have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community.

‘The leaders agreed that the Olympic Games in Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present. 

‘Therefore, it was agreed that the Olympic flame will stay in Japan. It was also agreed that the Games will keep the name Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.’ 

There was plenty of scepticism whether the Olympics would pull through and continue as scheduled while events linked to the games were called off. The Olympic torch relay in Greece was cancelled on Friday March 13 – just a day after the flame was lit in Olympia.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games have been postponed by one year due to the coronavirus

Large crowds mobbed Hollywood actor Gerard Butler as he lit the cauldron in the Greek city of Sparta despite repeated warnings for spectators not to attend because of coronavirus.

That forced the decision by the Greek Olympic Committee to halt the torch relay on Greek soil on just the second day of its scheduled eight-day journey. It is the only the third time that a relay to Athens for the summer Games has not been completed.

The Olympic flame will still be handed over to the Tokyo 2020 organising committee at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens on Thursday March 19, but without fans present. 

Athletes were told to keep training but many struggled considering the government lock-down measures put in place. 

On Friday March 13 US president Donald Trump’s suggestion to postpone the Tokyo Olympics for a year because of the coronavirus was immediately shot down by Japan’s Olympic minister.

‘The IOC and the organising committee are not considering cancellation or a postponement – absolutely not at all,’ Seiko Hashimoto, an Olympic bronze medalist, told a news conference in Tokyo.

On Tuesday March 17, Kozo Tashima, one of the Japanese Olympic Committee’s vice presidents and president of the Japanese Football Association, tested positive for coronavirus.  

The International Olympic Committee and Tokyo organisers have stayed on message since the viral outbreak in China three months ago spread across Asia and then the globe: The games will open as scheduled on July 24. 

Tokyo 2020 organisers received the Olympic flame in a scaled-down handover ceremony in the Greek capital on March 19. 

ATHLETICS 

The World Athletics Indoor Championships, which was due to be held from March 13-15 in Nanjing, is postponed until March 2021.

The World Athletics Indoor Championships in Nanjing, China, has been postponed due to concerns over the danger of the coronavirus and its ability to spread

North Korea cancelled the Pyongyang Marathon scheduled for April after imposing a border lockdown due to the level of outbreak in South Korea, where the Seoul Marathon is cancelled in a bid to protect runners.

The Paris half-marathon is cancelled and the French government also decided to ban all public gatherings of more than 100 people, before ordering people to stay at home from March 15 for at least 15 days. The race involving some 44,000 competitors was scheduled for Sunday March 1. Organisers said the race will be postponed to a date yet to be determined.

The London Marathon, which had been scheduled to take place on April 26, has been postponed until October 4. Over 40,000 runners were due to take part. 

The Barcelona marathon scheduled for March 15 has been postponed until October.

BOXING 

Olympic boxing qualifiers to be staged in Wuhan were cancelled by the International Olympic Committee, but went ahead in Amman from March 3-11.

The IBF title fight between Daniele Scardina and Andrew Francillette in Milan on February 28 was postponed by Matchroom due to restrictions in Italy following the outbreak.

The Japanese boxing commission cancelled all fight cards scheduled for March on government advice to suspend all pending sporting fixtures. They will not be rescheduled.

Daniel Dubois and Joe Joyce’s Battle of Britain has been pushed back from April to July

The British Boxing Board of Control announced on Tuesday March 17 that all boxing events under their jurisdiction for March will be postponed due to the coronavirus.

That decision has lead to the heavyweight clash between Daniel Dubois and Joe Joyce being postponed. That fight, which had been penciled in for April 11, has been rescheduled for July 11 at the O2 Arena. 

Anthony Yarde, who was due to fight Lyndon Arthur on the undercard of the all-British clash, announced on March 29 that his father had died as a result of contracting the coronavirus. 

He revealed in an Instagram post that he had no underlying health issues and urged everyone to stay at home.  

Matchroom Boxing has also postponed all events scheduled for March and April, including Josh Kelly’s European title fight against Russia’s David Avanesyan (scheduled for March 28). 

The European Olympic boxing qualification tournament in London has been suspended. It was due to secure qualification for Tokyo 2020 for 77 male and female boxers, with 322 taking part. 

Matchroom Boxing chief Eddie Hearn has said Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight title defence against Kubrat Pulev, which is scheduled for June 20, could be rearranged for July. All Matchroom promoted fights in March and April have been postponed. 

Canelo Alvarez vs Billy Joe Saunders, earmarked for May in Las Vegas, was postponed before even being announced, however the Mexican is reportedly still planning to make the bout happen in June. 

CRICKET 

England’s tour of Sri Lanka was postponed on March 13, with the England and Wales Cricket Board citing ‘completely unprecedented times’.

The decision was confirmed while Joe Root’s side were in the field at Colombo’s P Sara Oval, contesting a warm-up game for a two-Test series.

On March 18, the West Indies offered to host England’s upcoming home Tests against them in the Caribbean instead of in the UK – should the coronavirus outbreak not have improved by then. England are due to face the Windies in a a three-Test series, which is due to start at the Oval on June 4 but could be delayed until September. If playing the series in England proves unworkable, CWI have offered to step in for this series, and also for England’s three Tests against Pakistan, due to start on July 30. Although there are Covid-19 cases in the Caribbean, its impact there has been limited so far. 

The start of the Indian Premier League season has also been delayed until April 15. The 2020 campaign had been set to start on March 29. The IPL franchises are also ready to quarantine their foreign players for a period of 14 days, if travel restrictions are lifted to allow them to arrive.

On March 13, India’s ongoing one-day international series against South Africa was postponed, while Australia’s one-day internationals against New Zealand will be played behind closed doors.

Scotland’s one-day series against the United States and UAE have been postponed. The games were scheduled to be played in Florida in April. 

England’s cricketers would not play any rescheduled Test series against West Indies in the Caribbean until December at the earliest, it emerged on March 19.

CYCLING 

Cycling’s Giro d’Italia has been called off, with the race scheduled to start in Hungary in May. 

The final two stages of the UAE Tour were cancelled after two members of staff on the race were suspected of having the disease. 

Danish cyclist Michael Morkov was tested for coronavirus after being put in isolation

The Tour de France is under threat of cancellation, with the scheduled start in Nice taking place in just over three months, on June 27. With British and French governments anticipating that the pandemic will last until the summer, race organizers are studying alternative scheduling. 

The Paris-Roubaix cycling race, another major event on the French sports calendar, was postponed due to the pandemic, while the April 5 Tour of Flanders, only previously cancelled during World War I, was also postponed in a further sign that Le Tour is under grave threat.

FOOTBALL 

This summer’s Euro 2020 tournament has been moved to next summer (2021) following a UEFA conference held on March 17. The postponement provides a chance for European club competitions to be completed.

All football in England is suspended until at least April 30 – but the 2019-20 season should eventually be completed after the FA bend their own rules to extend the campaign INDEFINITELY after holding crisis talks on March 19.

The decisions to suspend follows players and staff becoming affected by the virus, or individuals self-isolating as a precaution after reporting symptoms consistent with Covid-19.

The Premier League has moved to cancel games following the global outbreak of coronavius

The Premier League clash between Manchester City and Arsenal, scheduled for March 11, had already been postponed as a ‘precautionary measure’ after Olympiacos and Nottingham Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis tested positive for coronavirus weeks after watching his Greek team play at the Emirates Stadium. 

On March 13, UEFA announced all Champions League and Europa League fixtures scheduled are postponed, as well as the quarter-final draws for both competitions. UEFA hope to conclude the competitions in the summer but no dates are yet set. 

Birmingham City become the first Championship side to see players take temporary 50 per cent wage cuts to ease financial pressure.  Leeds United soon followed in a bid to keep paying all of their non-football staff. 

All Chinese domestic fixtures at all levels were postponed and the season pushed back, the first football to be affected by the outbreak in the country of its origin. However, reports suggest that the league could resume on April 18 as China gets to grip with the virus.

Asian Champions League matches involving Guangzhou Evergrande, Shanghai Shenhua and Shanghai SIPG are postponed until April.

The start of the Korean K-League season is postponed. The four teams in the AFC Champions League are playing their matches behind closed doors.

Japan’s J-League postponed all domestic games until the middle of March, but further delays are inevitable. 

Ludogorets players were taking no chances after the coronavirus outbreak in Italy

Italy, the country worst hit by the virus outside China, suffered a spate of cancellations before the government put the population on lockdown. All sport, including Serie A games, were suspended until at least April 3 to contain the virus.

In France, it was announced on Friday 13 March that there will be no top-flight football in France for the immediate future after their governing body postponed all matches.  

In Spain, April 18’s Copa del Rey final between between Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad has been postponed. LaLiga is also postponed until the end of March at least.

Germany’s Bundesliga, the other major European league, is also suspended until April 3 at least. 

The Dutch Eredivisie and Portugal’s Primeira Liga are also suspended.

The Football Association of Ireland announced that all football under its jurisdiction will cease until March 29. 

Major League Soccer has been suspended for 30 days until mid-April with David Beckham’s first Inter Miami home game delayed.  

The South American Football Confederation postponed this year’s Copa America, due to take place from 12 June to 12 July, until 2021.

FIFA said that the newly-expanded Club World Cup, originally scheduled to take place in China in June 2021, will be postponed and a new date announced when ‘there is more clarity on the situation’.

On March 13, the FA announced that all of England’s games scheduled for the month would be postponed, including those of development teams. It means that England’s friendlies with Italy and Denmark have been called off.    

Euro 2020 play-off matches due to be held on March 26, including Scotland v Israel have been put off until June. 

Olympiakos’ owner Evangelos Marinakis has tested positive for the coronavirus

Manchester United clash at Austrian side Lask was behind closed doors, with United handing out £350 to each fan to help with travel and accommodation after they sold 900 tickets for the Europa League game. 

Newcastle United banned their players from shaking hands with each other amid coronavirus fears. 

Cristiano Ronaldo went into isolation in Madeira after it emerged that his Juventus team-mate, Daniele Rugani, has coronavirus. Squad members Blaise Matuidi and Paolo Dybala also tested positive. 

Elsewhere in Italy, Fiorentina striker Patrick Cutrone, who is on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers, tested positive for coronavirus.

In Spain, 35% of Valencia’s squad staff tested positive for coronavirus, with all cases being asymptomatic. 

Real Madrid’s first-team squad were in quarantine after a member of the basketball team tested positive for Covid-19. The two teams share the same training facility.   

Liverpool have announced a charity match between a Reds Legends side and Barcelona Legends, due to be played at Anfield on March 28, has been postponed.

FIFA says it will postpone South American World Cup qualifying matches due to take place in March. 

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta tested positive for coronavirus on March 12 with the entire first-team squad being put into isolation. The Gunners’ game against Brighton, scheduled for Saturday March 14, has been postponed.

In the early hours of Friday, March 13, Chelsea announced that winger Callum Hudson-Odoi had been diagnosed with the illness.

The club’s first team went into self-isolation, while two buildings at their training ground in Cobham were closed. 

Premier League clubs, including Manchester United and Manchester City, have sent players home to train alone following the British government’s increasing crackdown on mass gatherings and unnecessary social contact.   

West Ham chief Karren Brady called for the season to be null and void while Aston Villa believe no team should be relegated. In this situation Liverpool, the runaway league leaders, could face the horror of being denied the title despite being on the brink of securing their first league trophy in nearly 30 years.

Reports suggest football bodies across England and the rest of Europe are bracing themselves for a reported total shutdown of every league until September.

Top-level English and Scottish football was initially suspended until April 3 at the earliest. The Football Association, the Premier League, the English Football League, FA Women’s Super League and FA Women’s Championship all agreed to call a halt to competitive action with immediate effect. 

All levels of English football below the National League North and South have been called off and voided with no promotion and relegation due to the calendar being decimated by the coronavirus outbreak.  

FORMULA ONE 

The season-opening Australian Grand Prix was called off after a McLaren team member came down with Covid-19, leading to the British team pulling out prior to a decision being made on whether the race would still go ahead. 

The announcement came hours after Lewis Hamilton said it was ‘shocking’ that the race was going ahead. 

The Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai on April 19 was the first race to be postponed, with no decision over whether it will be reinserted into the 2020 calendar for later in the season. 

The Bahrain Grand Prix, scheduled for March 20-22, is also called off, as is the inaugural Vietnam Grand Prix, which was scheduled to take place in Hanoi on April 5. 

It was hoped that the Dutch Grand Prix on May 3 would be the first race of the new season but that has also been postponed due to Covid-19. 

The iconic Monaco Grand Prix on May 24 was cancelled for the first time in 66 years before Formula One announced their race in Azerbaijan had been postponed. 

The Chinese GP was first to be cancelled and other races could yet follow that lead

GOLF 

On March 13, the Masters was postponed. In a statement released online, Fred Ridley, Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, emphasised that the decision makers hope to hold the championship ‘at some later date’. The first men’s major of the year was due to begin on April 9.

The US PGA Championship, the second major of the year, has now joined the  Masters in being postponed. It had been due to take place at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco from May 11-17, but has been rescheduled for later this summer.

After deciding to play with no spectators from the second round of the Players Championship onwards, the PGA Tour cancelled the event entirely after the first round on March 12. 

They also scrapped the following three events leading up to the Masters, but after that was cancelled four further events in April and May – the RBC Heritage, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, the Wells Fargo Championship and the AT&T Byron Nelson – also bit the dust. It is hoped that the season can be resumed in late May.

The European Tour have cancelled all tournaments until the popular Made in Denmark event on May 21. Many of them were due to be held in China or east Asia in countries badly hit by the outbreak.

The women’s game has also been hit by postponements and cancellations, with the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration, the highest profile casualty.

The Masters has been postponed for the first time since the Second World War

Lorenzo Gagli and Edoardo Molinari were withdrawn from the Oman Open on medical grounds after Gagli showed symptoms of the virus. He shared a hotel room with Molinari and he was told to self-isolate. They were later reinstated to the tournament after testing negative for the virus. 

HORSE RACING 

The Grand National was called off following new British government restrictions to fight the spread of coronavirus made it impossible to stage the Aintree showpiece on April 4. The Cheltenham Festival went ahead amid some criticism before the social distancing measures were tightened. 

The Japan Racing Association revealed that ‘government-sanctioned races’ will go ahead behind closed doors.  

Racing in Ireland attempted to take place behind closed doors starting on March 29 – but that decision was changed after government cancelled all sporting events.  

The Dubai World Cup meeting will go ahead on March 28 ‘without paid hospitality spectators’. 

Racing Post forced to temporarily suspend publication of the flagship daily racing newspaper for the first time since their inception in 1986 due to all action in UK and Ireland being suspended.  

The Cheltenham Festival went ahead despite travel disruption caused by the virus

RUGBY 

This year’s Six Nations will have to wait for its conclusion with all remaining games postponed.

England’s game with Italy and Ireland’s trip to France had already been called off with Wales and Scotland leaving it until the day before before calling off their game. 

Saturday, 31 October is a possible date for the final weekend of matches. 

The Women’s Six Nations has also been hit by postponements.

Ireland’s Six Nations encounter with Italy on March 7 has been postponed

The RFU has suspended all levels of rugby in England until April 14, with the announcement coming shortly after the Premiership was halted for five weeks. 

The quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup have also been postponed. Those games were scheduled for April 3, 4 and 5.   

The RFL and rugby league’s Super League have now followed suit and postponed all fixtures for at least three weeks. Eight Leeds Rhinos players had been confirmed to be self-isolating.  

TENNIS

The French Open, one of the four Grand Slam tournaments, is postponed until September amid a wide lockdown in France.

The clay-court major was scheduled for May 24 to June 7, but that has shifted to September 20 to October 4, after the US Open, which was due to be the final major of the year. 

Players have been quick to criticise the move, which has created a conflict with the Laver Cup men’s team event spearheaded by Roger Federer, and a women’s tournament in China.

All events on the ATP Tour have been suspended for six weeks. 

The BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells in California, set to start on March 9, was postponed at the eleventh hour.  It came after a confirmed case of the coronavirus in the nearby Coachella Valley.

The final of an ATP Challenger event in Bergamo, Italy, between Enzo Couacaud and Illya Marchenko of Ukraine was cancelled. Both players received ranking points and prize money for getting to the final. They were denied the opportunity to play behind closed doors.

China forfeited a Davis Cup tie because the men’s team were unable to travel to Romania for the March 6-7 play-off.

WTA events have also been cancelled. The WTA announced they are assessing their schedule with a number of events set for China in the second half of the season.

The International Tennis Federation has announced that the Fed Cup finals have been postponed. The event was due to be held in Budapest in April and the competition’s play-offs, which were set to take place in eight different locations, have also been placed on hold.

The WTA also announced no tournaments will be staged for at least five weeks.   

OTHER SPORTS 

The NBA has been suspended indefinitely after two Utah Jazz players contracted the virus. On March 17 Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant confirmed he had tested positive for the virus alongside three unnamed team-mates.

In an aid to decrease risks of exposure to the virus, the NBA had told players to avoid taking items such as pens, markers, balls and jerseys from autograph seekers. 

The NHL has announced it has paused the 2019-20 season with no date confirmed for when it will resume. 

The UFC has cancelled its next three events, although president Dana White is still pushing ahead for the highly-anticipated lightweight title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson. 

MotoGP have cancelled their first two races of the season in Qatar and Thailand. 

South Korea’s baseball league cancelled all 50 pre-season game which were slated to take place from March 14-24. It is the first time since the leagues inception in 1982 that an entire set of exhibition matches are off. 

The first-stage draw for the Table Tennis World Championships, scheduled for South Korea from March 22-29, is postponed.

A beach volleyball tournament, due to be held in Yangzhou from April 22-26, is postponed until after the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

World Short track speed skating championship in Seoul is cancelled.

The World Triathlon Series event in Abu Dhabi was postponed as a precautionary measure.  

The Women’s World Ice Hockey Championships in Canada have been cancelled.   

All 72 pre-season baseball games in Japan are to take place behind closed doors

In badminton, the German Open (March 3-8), Vietnam Open (March 24-29) and Polish Open (March 26-29), all Olympic qualifying events, are cancelled due to ‘strict health protection’. 

The Japanese professional baseball league made the decision to play their 72 pre-season games behind closed doors until March 15. Baseball is among the most popular sports in Japan.  

Doubts remain as the Asian weightlifting championships, scheduled for March, are relocated from Kazakhstan to neighbouring Uzbekistan. They could still be postponed. 

 

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Racing

Indianapolis 500 postponed until August due to coronavirus crisis

The Indianapolis 500, one of the world’s biggest single-day sporting events, has been postponed until August because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The crown jewel of American open-wheel racing, which is traditionally staged each US Memorial Day weekend at the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), was originally scheduled to be run on May 24.

It will be the first time the race, with an estimated crowd topping 350,000, won’t run on the last weekend of May since 1945.

“The reality is today we might still have been able to run as scheduled in May. We hope life is back to normal, or near normal, by then,” Mark Miles, chief executive of the company that runs IndyCar and the IMS, told a conference call.

“After protecting public health, our priority is absolutely about running the 104th Indianapolis 500 mile race in 2020. By rescheduling in late August, we fully expect to be outside the window impacted by the COVID-19 virus.”

Fernando Alonso is set to compete this year, with McLaren fielding the two-time F1 world champion alongside their IndyCar pairing Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew.

The decision to postpone what is widely known as the “greatest spectacle in racing” was largely expected and comes after IndyCar had cancelled the first four rounds on its 2020 season as the coronavirus outbreak continued to spread.

Roger Penske, who in November took over IndyCar and the IMS, called May his favourite time of year and said he was disappointed to add the Indy 500 to the list of major sporting events hit by the coronavirus.

“The health and safety of our event participants and spectators is our top priority, and we believe that postponing the event is the responsible decision with the conditions and restrictions we are facing,” Penske said.

“We will continue to focus on ways we can enhance the customer experience in the months ahead, and I’m confident we will welcome fans with a transformed facility and a global spectacle when we run the world’s greatest race.”

The season-opener was originally scheduled for March 15 in St. Petersburg, Florida, where IndyCar had planned to run the race in front of empty grandstands but cancelled it two days before it was due to be held.

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Basketball

Missing March Madness: Kentucky-Ohio State was much too sweet for early NCAA Tournament meeting

No matter how one is covering March Madness, it’s impossible not to miss a lot.

Ordinarily, the few games I do miss occur while I’m on the scene at a concurrent game. For those days when there are no games contested at the site I’m visiting, I always make sure to scout out the most convenient sports bar with access to every game shown.

On this occasion, though, it was the night between games at the NCAA South Region in New Orleans, the eve of Butler playing against Florida for the right to compete at the 2011 Final Four. Ordinarily on that Friday evening, I would have been watching the four games at the East and Midwest regions — but I had other obligations.

MISSING MARCH MADNESS: Playing out the full schedule, scores for 2020 NCAA Tournament

No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Kentucky, East Region, 2011

Why I missed it: Sporting News was working with a video partner, CineSport, and we were shooting round-by-round previews outside the arenas. It was necessary to tape during the Friday evening game window, and there was some sort of delay that ended up eating way more time than anticipated. I got back to my hotel with only a bit remaining in the game. I didn’t see much of anything that night except the outside of the New Orleans Arena.

What I missed: One of the most underrated tournament games, with Kentucky edging the nation’s best team and the No. 1 overall NCAA seed
Date: March 25, 2011
Site: Prudential Center, Newark, N.J.
Rules at the time: 35-second shot clock; 3-point line set at 20 feet, 9 inches; no “no-charge zone”
Coaches: John Calipari (Kentucky); Thad Matta (Ohio State)
Announcers: Jim Nantz, voice of the tournament since 1991, and Clark Kellogg, a Final Four broadcaster from 2009-14

What people remember most about 2011 was Butler shooting 18.8 percent in the NCAA championship game and Connecticut winning while shooting 34.5 percent. That Final Four is considered, to put it gently, a mutt.

If Kentucky-Ohio State had been the final — or at least played on the final weekend — then people still would be talking about it as one of the great games ever. It wasn’t a work of offensive beauty, either. Ohio State shot 32.8 percent from the field — the Buckeyes had entered as the No. 1 team in offensive efficiency, at 125 points per 100 possessions — and the Wildcats had only two players reach double figures.

It was as fiercely competitive as a tournament game possibly could be, though.



(Getty Images)

Ohio State’s David Lighty, Kentucky’s Terrence Jones battle for loose basketball
https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/bb/57/lighty-jones-032620-getty-ftr_16vrh4dp3gtjr15scv9etg05ob.jpg”>

This game probably should have been played later in the tournament. It’s still puzzling how the NCAA selection committee placed Kentucky — 25-8 and champions of the SEC Tournament — as the No. 4 seed in the East Region and North Carolina — 26-7 and champion of the ACC regular season — in the same bracket as Ohio State. The Buckeyes won both Big Ten titles and entered the NCAAs at 32-2.

The RPI was the metric of choice at the time. OSU was ranked No. 2, with Kentucky at No. 6 and Carolina No. 7. For those who had caught on to KenPom, his ratings had Kentucky at No. 7. How did the Buckeyes wind up with such a stacked bracket? What’s really weird is their athletic director, Gene Smith, was the chairman of the selection committee.

The result was a UK-OSU matchup in the Sweet 16, and it was magnificent. The lead was exchanged 14 times in the second half. Not the game — the second half.

MISSING MARCH MADNESS: How Georgetown avoided upset from 16-seed Princeton

Kentucky center Josh Harrellson was determined to battle Ohio State freshman star Jared Sullinger with as little help as possible, but the Wildcats did bring a double-team to bother Sullinger whenever point guard Aaron Craft, who was a major disruptor on defense but not an elite shooter, delivered the post feed.

It’s a measure of how great Sullinger was, in that season and on that night, that Harrellson could be said to have performed exceptionally while Sullinger managed 21 points and 16 rebounds. Harrellson allowed him to shoot only 7-of-14, and the UK big man shot 7-of-9 for 17 points. The 10 rebounds Harrellson gathered tended to be massive, perhaps because most every one was both contested and consequential.

Kentucky’s defense was especially stellar during a second-half stretch in which OSU missed nine consecutive shots — that included two blown fast breaks in a row. A 36-32 Buckeyes advantage turned into a 44-42 deficit inside the final dozen minutes. The teams traded the lead for the remainder of the game.

It is virtually impossible to single out a play as one that turned the game in UK’s favor, except the obvious one at the end.

A 3-pointer from power forward Terrence Jones when defender David Lighty fell put UK up 50-49, but Lighty answered with a turnaround jumper to make it 51-50. Craft tried to draw a charge on Harrellson, but was late and gave up an and-one. Craft made two free throws to tie it 53-all. A beautiful drive-and-kick from DeAndre Liggins got Brandon Knight an open right-wing 3-pointer for a 56-53 lead, but the Buckeyes scored two quick buckets, including a Lighty drive down the left side set up by four screens set at the top of the key, to make it 57-56.

It went that way all the way until the final half-minute, when UK had the ball in a 60-all tie and trusted Knight — even with Craft guarding him — to conjure a game-winner. He drove to the right corner of the foul line, pulled up and — with Craft in his face — nailed a jumper with five seconds left to put UK on top.

Ohio State had two timeouts but called neither, and Craft raced the ball upcourt while ignoring Lighty, sharpshooter Jon Diebler and Sullinger to his right. He slipped a bounce pass to wing William Buford, who was 2 of 15 from the field. His attempt at a game-winning 3, with two Wildcats defenders surrounding him, caught the front rim. Make that 2 of 16.

MISSING MARCH MADNESS: Steph Curry displayed greatness in comeback vs. Georgetown

Calipari was asked afterward where the game, with all its lead changes, ranked among the best in which he had been involved.

“At this moment, the best of all time,” Calipari said. “At this moment.”

Nine years later, it still is pretty great.

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Racing

Azerbaijan GP becomes eighth F1 2020 race to be called off

The Azerbaijan GP has become the eighth Formula 1 race to be called off due to the coronavirus crisis.

The Baku round was scheduled to take place on June 7 but has now been postponed indefinitely after talks with relevant officials.

“In coming to this conclusion, BCC’s primary concern throughout has been the health and well-being of the Azerbaijani people as well as all visiting F1 fans, staff and championship participants,” read a statement.

“BCC shares its fans’ disappointment at not being able to experience the pinnacle of motorsport race through the streets of Baku this June.

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Racing

F1’s Virtual Bahrain GP: Renault win amid entertainment and chaos

Formula 1 did stage a Bahrain GP on Sunday – but not as you know it – as the sport offered fans some entertaining Esports escape to fill the current live racing void.

On the same day the floodlit race should have taken place in the Sakhir desert before the wave of postponements amid the coronavirus pandemic, F1’s teams were represented by a mix of current and former drivers, rising stars, and other celebrities as they raced against each other remotely on the F1 2019 PC game.

There was chaos, there was carnage and, amid it all, plenty of competitiveness as the 20 drivers from various career backgrounds took to the virtual version of one of F1’s most dramatic tracks.

It delivered the unique sight of current F1 drivers Lando Norris and Nicholas Latifi racing against Olympic cycling legend Sir Chris Hoy, golfer Ian Poulter and singer-songwriter Liam Payne to name but three.

The race was won by Renault test driver Guanyu Zhou, as the 20-year-old Chinese youngster overtook pole sitter Philipp Eng in the Red Bull midway through the 14-lap race.

Stoffel Vandoorne, Mercedes’ reserve driver, took second place late on from Eng.

But the action behind was wholly unpredictable.

Much of the drama was provided by Sky F1’s Johnny Herbert, who was involved in two of the event’s most memorable moments.

The three-time grand prix winner crashed his Alfa Romeo through a trackside barrier in qualifying and then, from 16th on the grid, propelled himself into the lead of the race coming out of the first corner.

However, Herbert’s stellar start came with a sizeable caveat – he drove straight across the grass at the first corner, and so the Englishman was handed a time penalty by the virtual stewards.

For fellow Sky Sports pundit, Anthony Davidson the real race never officially got started…

Well I had a lovely time driving around for 29laps, completely unaware the original race got re-started 😅 I hope you enjoyed watching the ‘other race’ though! pic.twitter.com/DS2X76JEy4

Esports regular Norris experienced technical problems with his sim system at home, leaving him unable to take part in qualifying before the computer AI ‘bot took over his car for the first part of the race.

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Racing

WATCH LIVE: F1’s Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix

https://youtube.com/watch?v=BbjC4ODWV30%3Ffeature%3Doembed

Get your Formula 1 entertainment fix by watching the Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix featuring a host of racing drivers and celebrities.

Lando Norris, Nicholas Latifi, Nico Hulkenberg and Stoffel Vandoorne are joined by Sir Chris Hoy, Ian Poulter and singer-songwriter Liam Payne.

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Racing

F1 2020: Dutch, Spanish GPs postponed, Monaco cancelled

The Monaco GP has been cancelled while the Dutch and Spanish races have been postponed as F1 continues to push its season start back amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The latest announcement means the 2020 campaign’s first seven scheduled races have all either been cancelled or postponed.

F1 says it will start the season “as soon it’s safe to do so after May”.

The Dutch GP, due to make its F1 return this season after 35 years off the calendar, was set for May 3, before the Spanish GP on May 10 and the prestigious Monaco GP on May 24.

While the first two races have only been postponed, Monaco race organisers confirmed “with great sadness” that they wouldn’t be able to find another date in the year for F1’s showpiece event.

“Under no circumstances will it be possible to organise [this] event later this year,” read a statement from the Automobile Club De Monaco Board of Directors as they announced the cancellation.

F1 are hopeful of fitting the Zandvoort and Barcelona races – as well as the other postponed Grands Prix in Bahrain, Vietnam and China – back onto the calendar once the season begins, with August a potential opportunity after the summer shutdown period was moved forward.

The first scheduled race on the 2020 calendar is now the Azerbaijan GP on June 7, before the Canadian GP the following week.

The European season is then due to start with races in France, Austria, Silverstone and Budapest.

F1’s statement in full (before Monaco was cancelled)

“In view of the continued global spread of COVID-19 and after ongoing discussions with the FIA and the three promoters it has today been confirmed that the Formula 1 Heineken Dutch Grand Prix 2020, Formula 1 Gran Premio De España 2020 and Formula 1 Grand Prix De Monaco 2020 will be postponed.

“Due to the ongoing and fluid nature of the COVID-19 situation globally, Formula 1, the FIA and the three promoters have taken these decisions in order to ensure the health and safety of the travelling staff, championship participants and fans, which remains our primary concern.

“Formula 1 and the FIA continue to work closely with affected promoters and local authorities to monitor the situation and take the appropriate amount of time to study the viability of potential alternative dates for each Grand Prix later in the year should the situation improve.

“Formula 1 and the FIA expect to begin the 2020 Championship season as soon as it’s safe to do so after May and will continue to regularly monitor the ongoing COVID-19 situation.”

And…

F1’s big rule changes for the 2021 season will be delayed until 2022 in the latest measure introduced in wake of the coronavirus crisis.

Teams will also continue to use their 2020 cars next year.

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