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MLB

‘The Masked Singer:’ White Tiger revealed as Rob Gronkowski

The White Tiger was eliminated from “The Masked Singer” on Wednesday, and it was revealed to be former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

“I’ve always loved dancing and my dance moves were always one of a kind and I always felt like I was never on rhythm, so when I got asked to do ‘The Masked Singer,’ I knew I was in,” the retired NFL star said after being unmasked. “I wanted to do it. I wanted to learn how to sing and also I really wanted to learn how to dance.”

The three-time Super Bowl winner said a few of his former teammates recognized his dance moves.

“One or two of my teammates did contact me like, ‘Dude, that is definitely you. I know your moves, I’ve seen those moves in the locker room plenty of times,’” Gronkowski said.

Gronkowski thanked the panel of judges for the fun experience.

“Thank you guys,” he said. “I enjoyed every performance in front of you guys. I love you guys so much. I’m just so thankful to be here. Legends right in front of my eyes.”

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Soccer

Cristiano Ronaldo: Juventus star open to Man Utd transfer if coronavirus prompts exit

Cristiano Ronaldo would be open to moving back to Manchester United if he’s forced to quit Juventus this summer, reports say. The Portugal international spent six years at Old Trafford earlier in his career, winning three Premier League titles as well as the 2008 Champions League crown before leaving for Real Madrid.

Ronaldo loved his time at Manchester United with the Portugal international establishing himself as a club legend throughout his six years at Old Trafford.

He took a little while to find his feet in England but, after the 2006 World Cup, was a player transformed.

Ronaldo helped United end Chelsea’s Premier League dominance under Jose Mourinho, propelling them to three league titles.

He was also on target as the Red Devils beat the Blues in the 2008 Champions League final – although missed a spot-kick in the decisive penalty shootout.

Ronaldo has been tipped to leave Juventus, with the Serie A giants in a tricky situation because of the coronavirus crisis.

The 35-year-old, along with his Juventus team-mates, has agreed to take a pay cut in order to aid the club financially.

But he could leave if the Serie A giants continue to struggle to balance the books.

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And Marca say Ronaldo would be open to returning to United, with the club a ‘real option’ should Juventus decide to cash in.

It’s said he’s always left the door open for a return.

And United also have the financial muscle in order to bring Ronaldo in again, 11 years after his sensational departure.

For now, it still appears unlikely.

United have focused on signing younger, proven talent ever since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer succeeded Jose Mourinho as manager.

But they do make the odd exception and Ronaldo was one of Ed Woodward’s four fantasy targets when he replaced David Gill in 2013.

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Solskjaer played alongside Ronaldo, too, which would make the possibility of a return potentially more appealing.

But whether United choose to pursue their old No 7, particularly at a time where they’re keen on Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish, is something only time will tell.

Meanwhile, former United star Gary Neville recently opened up on when Ronaldo left – admitting the English weather was a ‘big problem’ for the Portugal skipper.

Neville told Sky Sports: “I think because he did the interview after the 2008 final where he sort of alluded to the fact that he was going, it was almost like you had an advanced warning.

“So you were almost ready-prepared for it, you knew he was leaving the year after.

“It was coming, it was obvious that one day he would want to go and experience Madrid and La Liga.”

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He then added: “I didn’t speak to Cristiano for instance about him staying at the club for longer. I think I may have said to him during the year when he was maybe… the weather was a big problem for Cristiano.

“I think he also wanted to obviously live in Spain and do La Liga. But the weather was a big problem for him and I felt like he’d almost travelled his path, he’d done the journey. And I didn’t feel that anything I was going to say was going to bring him out of that.

“I think generally with players that were leaving there were very few who were leaving to go up. Now Cristiano you could argue going to Real Madrid and winning four or five European Cups is a step for him where he wanted to challenge himself.

“The players that were leaving mainly were because they had come to the end of the road for one reason or another, either their contracts had run out, or their age was getting too much, or the manager had had a word with them saying they’re not going to play football too much anymore.

“Most of the players that left Man United would have wanted to stay.

“Let’s be clear, 99 per cent of the players that left Man United during the time I was there would have stayed if the manager had said you’re staying. There’s only the one or two per cent who left against the wishes of the club.”

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Rugby

Coronavirus: Super League bosses agree to pay cuts

Super League chief executive Robert Elstone is to take a 40 per cent pay cut.

Other Super League executives will take a 30 per cent cut as the sport reacts to the financial difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Like all sports, rugby league is currently suspended due to the outbreak and the financial implications for the sport are likely to be serious.

The 12 Super League clubs are likely to take advantage of the furloughing initiative, in which the UK government will pay 80 per cent of salaries up to £2,500 a month.

Elstone said last week: “I think every club and Super League is looking very closely at how that allows us to get through this situation.

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MLB

Sources: Astros bans end in ’20 even if no games

Former Houston Astros manager AJ Hinch and ex-Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow will fulfill their one-season suspensions for the team’s sign-stealing scandal even if no baseball is played in 2020, sources told ESPN’s Buster Olney on Thursday.

Hinch and Luhnow were given the one-year bans and subsequently fired in January following an investigation by Major League Baseball that confirmed the Astros had cheated by using a camera-based sign-stealing system during the regular season and playoffs of their World Series-winning 2017 season and during part of the 2018 regular season.

According to the wording from commissioner Rob Manfred’s decision, both punishments end “following the completion of the 2020 World Series.”

Sources told Olney that, because the suspensions are tied to the end of the 2020 postseason rather than a specific number of games, MLB will view Luhnow and Hinch as having served their discipline this year.

MLB said in January that further violations by Hinch and Luhnow would result in them being placed on MLB’s permanently ineligible list.

Along with the punishments for Hinch and Luhnow, the Astros also lost their first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021 and were fined $5 million. Manfred said in January that he would not strip the Astros of their World Series title.

Last month, MLB announced that Opening Day had been pushed back to mid-May at the earliest because of the coronavirus pandemic. The league and players’ union also negotiated terms in March for the conditions needed for a return to play, with both sides expressing a willingness to stretch the season late into the 2020 calendar year if needed.

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Soccer

Jordan Henderson interview: Liverpool captain reflects on how mentality shift has been key to success under Jurgen Klopp

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson has been reflecting on the season so far, how he and his team-mates are keeping in touch and how Jurgen Klopp changed the club’s mentality during an interview with Jamie Carragher for Sky Sports.

Klopp’s side find themselves potentially two Premier League games away from a first league title since 1990, but the coronavirus pandemic has placed professional football at a virtual standstill around the globe.

Liverpool voluntarily suspended all activity at their Melwood training headquarters on March 13 following the Premier League’s announcement fixtures would be postponed until April 4.

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That has since been pushed back until the end of next month, with a further announcement expected on Friday at the next Premier League meeting. It leaves Liverpool – like all Premier League clubs – facing an uncertain time, but the runaway leaders have adapted to the unprecedented set of circumstances.

Henderson told Sky Sports: “We’ve been given our own training programmes to do, a bit like during off season when you’re on holiday doing your own stuff to keep ticking over.

“We’ve got a group chat so we’ve got all sorts of videos flying in with different challenges for us to do. So there’s a bit of banter and just normal stuff, really, so things are going well so far.

“Even the manager’s in the group chat! Everybody is, it’s all one big group chat and there’s all sorts of things which go into it so it’s a good idea in terms of keeping us busy.”

After narrowly missing out on the Premier League title last season to Manchester City, Henderson admits the disappointment spurred him and his team-mates on to go one step further this time around – but Liverpool’s dominance this term has been two years in the making.

Losing the Champions League final against Real Madrid was the worst feeling in my career. It gave us that extra bit of fuel to the fire to go again

Jordan Henderson

“I think losing the Champions League final the year before against Real Madrid, that was the worst feeling in my career in football and for a lot of us,” Henderson said. “Having been through that having played such a good season, I felt we were going in the right direction and were still improving.

“It gave us that extra bit of fuel to the fire to go again the following season. We felt there was still more to come from us as a team, and what we then managed to achieve in the league and the Champions League was fantastic.

“To lose the league on the last day was a sore, tough moment for the team, but then within a few weeks it was the best moment of our careers so far. It was a quicker turnaround in terms of emotions last season, from May to the start of June. It was massive for us as a team to finally get the first trophy over the line. Since then, the confidence has just kept growing.”

Developing a taste for silverware

Liverpool started the 2019/20 campaign with defeat on penalties to Manchester City in the Community Shield, but shootout success would swiftly follow in the European Super Cup against Chelsea.

The message under Klopp was clear back then in August, with the club keen to win as many trophies as possible over the coming nine months.

“It was really important for us as a team,” added Henderson when reflecting on the showpiece event in Istanbul. “Having won the Champions League, we were determined to carry on winning trophies, so it became a habit. When you get a taste for it, you want it more and more.

“That’s what has led to winning the Club World Championships and performing so well in the Premier League. We didn’t just want to be known as the Champions League winners, so to pick up two more trophies so soon after that was really important for us as a team.”

While Liverpool carried on where they left off at the start of the season, despite a curious lack of clean sheets, Manchester City dramatically dropped points at home to Tottenham before defeats to Norwich and Wolves.

It allowed Liverpool to open a six-point lead, which was preserved at Aston Villa in early November after two late goals secured a 2-1 win. It felt a seminal moment in the season, coming the week before the two title protagonists met at Anfield.

“That mentality and resilience within us this season has been massive,” said Henderson. “I feel that’s something the manager tried to instil in the squad when he first came in. When he first arrived, I remember him talking about never stopping and never changing your mentality within a game.

“I remember him saying right from the very beginning, no matter what the score, to keep going until the very end as you never know what can happen in football. If I look back at the games he’s been here I think of the game against Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League.

“I feel it’s been a progression over a few years and not just one season. This year has been massive in terms of how consistent we’ve been, but I feel it’s been a work in progress and now it’s just part of our identity to never change the mentality until the game is finished.”

From also-rans to Klopp’s mentality monsters

Klopp attempted to convey this message to the supporters early on in his tenure when he criticised some for leaving the stadium early in December 2015. He was ridiculed in some quarters for locking hands with his players in front of the Kop following a dramatic 2-2 draw at home to West Brom, but the togetherness he has nurtured in nearly four-and-a-half years is paying huge dividends.

“Looking back at that West Brom game, it wasn’t about the result,” reflects Henderson. “It was more about the mentality, and that’s when the manager could start to see a change. There were tough moments within that game, but he was happy with the way we reacted.

“The manager is always looking at how we react to conceding goals or losing momentum. It’s always about how you react, and the manager is always looking for that. It’s been a really big part of our game for a long time now.”

Liverpool duly opened a nine-point lead over City following that win at Villa Park, leading to Sky Sports pundit Roy Keane to describing the title race as “done” by mid-November.

Henderson admits there is a definite rivalry between themselves and City that has emerged over the past couple of seasons.

“Every time you come against them, you know they’ve got such a good team,” he said. “You know it’s going to be a tough game no matter what. Especially with that game being at Anfield, we felt that if we gave it everything, we knew we could hurt them and get a result that would put us in good stead in terms of our position in the league.

“There’s no hiding from the fact it did feel big. When you go head to head with your title rival and win, it does feel like a double hit. It was a big result, but the mentality was still all about the next game as we know how quickly things can change in football.

“It’s a big thing about this team over the past couple of seasons has been the focus and work ethic of the team always looking to the next game very quickly and respecting every team we come up against.”

How Liverpool overcame defining festive schedule

In early December, Klopp surprised onlookers with his much-changed team selection for the first Merseyside derby of the season, coming a week before the squad was due to fly out to Qatar for the Club World Cup.

It was part of a hectic period of 14 games in six weeks either side of Christmas, which Liverpool successfully navigated albeit exiting the Carabao Cup to Aston Villa at the quarter-final stage with an under-strength team.

Marco Silva was coming to the end of his turbulent Everton reign and arrived at Anfield on the brink of being sacked, but despite missing six first-team regulars in Alisson, Joe Gomez, Fabinho, Henderson, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, the hosts cantered to a 5-2 win.

“The manager has always been really big on the strength of the squad,” the Liverpool captain continued. “It’s not just about the 11 that might be playing that day. There’s a lot of good players that might not even make the 18 sometimes.

“When we achieve something, it is down to everyone, not just what everyone sees on a weekend. There’s a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes and on the training ground where the intensity needs to be high and no one can drop their heads.

“It’s a big strength of ours that we’ve managed to use really well as when we make changes the intensity has been there in training. The manager has shown a lot of faith in young players and he knows we’re all ready to go as he’s seen them throughout the week.”

Henderson revealed a lot of Liverpool’s sessions at Melwood this season have been largely focused on recovery due to the high level of games the side has been faced with, but that has not led to any complacency among those who have been regularly selected.

“As a player, reading into things is not the right thing to do because the manager can always change it,” Henderson said. “Training, no matter what, you need to be at 100 per cent because you never know what team the manager is going to pick.”

It would seem over the past decade, no matter what side has been fielded against their local rivals, Liverpool have had the edge, with Everton’s last win in the derby coming back in October 2010.

Silva became the first Blues manager to concede five league goals against Liverpool in a single match since Howard Kendall in November 1982, but Henderson still views the encounters as significant for those in the city.

He said: “It’s still unique. They’re still derby games, and all derbies are special. Having been here for so long, I do feel that. The manager will always tell us to use the adrenaline that you get for a derby in the right way. It’s about not getting too emotional within the game. We’ve found a good balance of doing that over a long period of time now so hopefully that can continue.”

Liverpool went from strength to strength with a 1-0 win at Tottenham in January meaning the side set a new European points record, taking their tally for the season to 61 from 21 matches – the best start to a campaign for any team in the history of Europe’s top five leagues.

Now 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League, a first title in 30 years looked all but assured. Henderson, however, believed those who criticised Liverpool’s performance that evening were right to do so.

“Looking back at the game, it was a great result to go to Spurs and win,” he said. “You can never take wins in the Premier League for granted, but at the same time I felt we should never have got ourselves in the position we found ourselves in during the last 10 or 15 minutes.

“We were so comfortable in the game and we should’ve made it a lot more comfortable with 2-0 or 3-0. It was very close to them coming back into the game and very nearly conceded. But that’s the expectation level of the team. We’re always thinking of how we can perform better.

“We’re always trying to improve, trying to listen to the manager on the training field and trying to implement that at the weekend.”

‘Improvement, not records, has always been the focus’

Prior to the shutdown, Liverpool were knocked out of the FA Cup by Chelsea and were defeated in extra-time in the Champions League against Atletico Madrid – two setbacks which came after stuttering performances in the league at Norwich, against West Ham and Bournemouth albeit in victory.

The 3-0 loss to Watford at Vicarage Road brought an end to hopes for an undefeated league season, and the chance of eclipsing Arsenal’s 49-game unbeaten record.

Henderson said: “We knew the time would come when we might drop points or suffer a defeat. We knew it would come so we were prepared for how to react.

“We never really spoke about the record in the dressing room, to be honest. The main aim was to just keep winning games. The ultimate goal is still to win the league, so after that loss, we spoke and the focus was still on the next game.

“Everybody else was talking about the records, but when you’re winning games and taking each one as they come, the records follow. You’re always just focusing on how you can improve, and that was our thought process after the Watford game.

“It felt really bad, like it does losing any game of football, but it was the manner of the defeat which really disappointed us. It wasn’t a performance that we had seen from us from a long time, but the next day in training, the lads’ attitude was onto the next game, learning from the mistakes we made.”

Liverpool’s procession to their first Premier League title has been put on hold, with the competition’s chief executive Richard Masters holding the next meeting with member clubs on Friday.

Henderson, like most people, is monitoring all government advice with the situation under constant review, but supporters have been assured he and his team-mates will be in the best physical condition possible when the competition finally resumes.

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Rugby

Newcastle Falcons to be promoted to Premiership to replace relegated Saracens as RFU unveil ‘best playing record formula’

Newcastle Falcons will be promoted to the Premiership next season after the Rugby Football Union confirmed a “best playing record formula” will be used to determine all promotions and relegations across the country below the top tier.

The RFU will use the average points per home game and average points per away game for results up to 14 March and apply them to the remaining fixtures, with Newcastle’s 100 per cent record in the Championship guaranteeing them top spot and an immediate return to the Premiership.

With Saracens being relegated to the Championship next season – a move that will still go through following their salary cap breach – Newcastle will take their place in the top-flight, providing they pass the Minimum Standards Criteria required to play in the Premiership set by the RFU’s Professional Game Board.

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There is also a concern that the financial implications caused by the coronavirus crisis over the coming months could significantly impact Newcastle’s immediate future. As a result the RFU are yet to officially confirm that the Kingston Park outfit will go up even though they will finish top of the second tier, with the club needing to pass the Minimum Standards Criteria first.

Speaking on a conference call on Thursday, RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney confirmed: “When the game stopped on 14 March, 80 per cent of the games had been played and we felt that the most fair and reasonable way to approach this was to apply a simple formula in terms of home record and away record, apply that to the balance of games outstanding and then announce promotion and relegation. 

“We did consult the game; the overwhelming response was that they had a preference to go that route.”

It is understood that Ealing Trailfinders have no intention to follow up on any legal action after director of rugby Ben Ward admitted the west-London club had received counsel on whether they had a case or not, with all parties satisfied with how the promotion picture will play out.

With final tables due to be published on Friday, the RFU also confirmed that Yorkshire Carnegie will be relegated from the Championship, though director of rugby Phil Davies welcomed the development given the club have picked up just two points in a winless season and looked destined for the drop to National One regardless of the premature finish to the season.

“Unfortunately, relegation was inevitable given the results we had suffered this season but I do think it is a shame for the lads who gave so much this season that they have not had the chance to finish off the campaign,” Davies said in a statement. “I can only talk about since the turn of the year but I have seen how much hard work these lads have put in on a part time basis and there were shoots of recovery coming; it would have been great for them to get a win but obviously events for all of us have taken an unprecedented turn.

“Playing in National One next season offers us an opportunity to rebuild the club, reset our culture and principles and set the values we want to instil. We want to re-engage with the universities in our city, the general public and business’ in Leeds and find a new way to forge for the people of Leeds a Rugby Union club they can be proud of again.”


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It has also been confirmed that the Tyrrells Premier 15s will be ruled void due to the absence of promotion and relegation, meaning that Saracens Women miss out on the title despite holding a two-point lead over Harlequins Women with six rounds remaining in the 2019/20 season.

RFU President, Peter Wheeler, said: “We believe that the decisions made provide fair and balanced outcomes for the game and maintain the integrity of the competitions.  We have listened to recommendations from the heart of the game and the approach has been ratified by the RFU Council.

“This has been a difficult decision to make in the most unprecedented of circumstances. There is no single solution that will suit every club, but the approach taken is one that we believe best reflects the nature of league rugby in England.

“With 80 per cent of the season complete for the community game, we believe our approach is fair and the right one for our leagues. We have clubs that are clear league leaders and those who have said they would benefit from relegation to play more meaningful rugby.”

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Soccer

Man Utd market operators exploring Edinson Cavani transfer – but there’s a problem

Manchester United market operators are looking into the possibility of signing Edinson Cavani on a free transfer this summer, reports say. The PSG star’s time in France is winding doubt and the Uruguay international is ready to pursue a new challenge elsewhere. He was linked in January but, on that occasion, the club ended up swooping for Odion Ighalo instead.

Manchester United have long admired Cavani, with interest in the 33-year-old dating back to when he played in Italy with Napoli.

The Red Devils looked to sign the Uruguay international when Louis van Gaal ruled the Old Trafford roost but, after being given an indication that he could move, he ended up staying in France.

Now, Cavani is poised to become a free agent at the end of the season.

And Area Napoli say that United market operators are looking into the possibility of signing the PSG striker for nothing this summer.

However, there’s a problem.

Boca Juniors also want to sign the veteran and pair him alongside Carlos Tevez next season.

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And Cavani would prefer to stay in Europe with Spain or Italy instead.

It’s claimed he was offered to Lazio, who would like to field him alongside Ciro Immobile up top.

But their offer didn’t please the striker and what he does next, with his contract winding down, is something only time will tell.

Boca certainly seem frontrunners for the player.

And, speaking recently, former United star Diego Forlan expressed a belief that Cavani would flourish back in South America.

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“I imagine the shirt of Boca’s, like River, is very heavy because they are so prestigious in South America, they always fight for the Argentine championship and the Libertadores,” Forlan said.

“In the prime of their career it is more difficult for them (top players) to come to either due to the economic issue, because there is no comparison to what they earn in European football.

“But if you look at the professional side and not the economic side, it is a very big challenge and a tempting challenge.

“Cavani is a top player and I could see him there.”

Meanwhile, in February, former United star Robin van Persie called on Solskjaer to bring Cavani to the Premier League.

“Edinson Cavani. I would definitely go for Cavani,” he said when asked who he’d go for.

“He’s very fit, he’s a proven goalscorer, a goal machine, he has proven it at Napoli, PSG and Uruguay.

“With him, if he starts, he will get you 25 goals a season.

“I’ve watched him play, I’ve played against him, he is like a proper goalscorer. He lives by scoring goals so I’d go for him.”

Chelsea were linked with Cavani in January but the Blues are expected to pursue other targets in the summer window. 

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Racing

Mercedes blast back as Toto Wolff tipped to quit F1 team and leave Lewis Hamilton in limbo

Mercedes have slammed speculation Toto Wolff might leave his role as head of their F1 operation to take up a position at Aston Martin. Rumours regarding Wolff’s future have rumbled on for months due to his growing friendship with Racing Point owner Lawrence Stroll.

The Canadian billionaire has just injected millions of pounds into Aston Martin, which will see Racing Point rebranded with their name for the 2021 F1 season.

Wolff has, in the wake of that investment, been tipped by none other than former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone to quit Mercedes and join the board of Aston Martin.

If the Austrian headed to the British car manufacturer, it would leave Lewis Hamilton in limbo, with the driver admitting his future is linked to that of his boss.

Wolff denied last weekend that he is on course to become the chief executive of Aston Martin, blasting a story regarding the potential move as “not true”.

Mercedes have now issued their own verdict on the speculation that Wolff is set to call time on his spell as team principal.

Speaking on the Sky Sports F1 vodcast, presenter Natalie Pinkham revealed Mercedes’ theory on what’s going on.

“Just a line from Mercedes, on Toto, they truly believe that it’s all political attempts to destabilise and make mischief, this talk of him going to Aston Martin,” Pinkham said.

“‘None of it is to be taken seriously. Simply some journos are happy to be the instruments of others putting out misinformation or misinformed speculation.

“‘Toto has said very clearly he’s not going to Aston Martin. Likewise, he has a strong and very close relationship to the Daimler CEO [Ola Kallenius]’. So, absolutely slamming down those rumours that we’ve been hearing.”

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Wolff has overseen Mercedes’ dominance of F1 over the past six years, with the Silver Arrows winning drivers’ and constructors’ title doubles each season.

Hamilton has won five of the past six World Drivers’ Championships, with his former team-mate Nico Rosberg scooping the one the missed out on in 2016.

Hamilton’s £40m-a-year Mercedes contract is due to expire at the end of the 2020 F1 campaign, the start of which has been pushed back until the summer due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.

Ferrari are known admirers of the six-time champion and last year it was confirmed preliminary, informal talks over a possible switch had been held.

Hamilton is, though, expected to put pen to paper on a bumper new Mercedes deal in the coming months.

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Soccer

Virgil van Dijk lifts lid on Liverpool players’ WhatsApp group chat

Liverpool centre-back Virgil van Dijk says he and his teammates are still remaining positive amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

Like the majority of the rest of the country, the Dutch defender and the rest of the Reds squad are currently self isolating, with the Premier League season suspended until the end of this month at the very earliest.

Despite not being able to engage in the typical training ground banter, van Dijk says the squad are still in contact via a WhatsApp group, with everybody doing their bit to keep morale up.

When asked in an interview with Liverpool's official website whose social media posts have received the biggest reaction, the 28-year-old said: "No idea!

"The group chat is actually pretty lively, everyone is participating properly in it. It says a lot about our team, everyone is part of it, no one is afraid to say something or try to be funny.

"Everyone is doing their bit basically and it's good to see everyone is participating."

Liverpool and their players are still waiting to discover how their season will be concluded, with the Reds a huge 25 points clear at the top of the Premier League and on the verge of securing their first top flight title since 1990 when the campaign was suspended.

The Premier League will meet again on Friday with player welfare amid all of the talks high on the agenda and topics of discussion.


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Soccer

Brescia owner Massimo Cellino slams efforts to finish Serie A season

‘Going back to work is pure madness’: Brescia owner Massimo Cellino slams efforts to finish the Serie A season and former madcap Leeds owner insists he could FORFEIT every game if the campaign returns out of ‘respect’ to those affected by the coronavirus

  • The Serie A season has been halted in Italy amid the coronavirus outbreak 
  • Brescia president Massimo Cellino has insisted the season should be scrapped 
  • The former Leeds owner has threatened to forfeit all matches if it resumes 

Brescia president Massimo Cellino has hit out at his fellow Serie A chiefs who are insistant on resuming the current Serie A campaign amid the coronavirus crisis.

Italy is the worst affected country in the world by the outbreak, with 13,155 deaths so far and 110,574 cases recorded to date. 

UEFA announced on Wednesday that they have suspended the Champions League and Europa League entry for the 2020-21 season indefinitely, with a view to helping European leagues reach a conclusion this season. 

Brescia president Massimo Cellino has slammed attempts to get the Serie A season completed

No top flight across Europe has yet taken the decision to end their season, with leagues looking for solutions to finish campaigns in order to avoid heavy losses through broadcasting fulfillments.  

But in a fierce interview with ‘Gazzetta dello Sport’ Cellino, who spent a colourful spell as Leeds owner between 2014 and 2017, lashed out against the possible restarting of the championship. 

‘This Serie A season no longer makes sense,’ said the former Leeds owner. ‘We have stopped, no team will return as before, the stadiums would play matches behind closed doors, there is also a risk for the health of the athletes. 

For me, going back to work is pure madness. If they force us, I am willing to withdraw the team and lose matches 3-0 without appearing on the field out of respect for the citizens of Brescia and their loved ones who are no longer there.’ 

Cellino has insisted that he may get his team to frofeit matches should the season be resumed

Cellino also attacked the UEFA announcement from Wednesday, calling the governing body ‘arrogant’ and accused them of thinking purely along financial lines.

‘They can’t push anything. The season closes on June 30, when there’s the deadline to present the club’s budgets and player contracts,’ he insisted. ‘They are arrogant and irresponsible; they only think about their economic interests and the Cups.

‘But UEFA doesn’t decide for the Italian championship, Italy decides. If Serie A must be resumed, it has to end by June 30. Will they make us play every two days? Or does UEFA also have the power to extend the days and make them 72 hours?

‘If UEFA wants to do something useful, they will send oxygen cylinders and respirators to Brescia, we would be grateful for that.’

Cellino has already had run-ins with some of Serie A’s top brass over the drive to deliver an end to the season.

Lazio president Claudio Lotito has seen his side involved in a title race with Juventus and is desperate to give his the opportunity to vie for the title. 

Brescia are rock-bottom of the table and their president has been accused of attempting to save his side from relegation by advocating for the season to be deemed null and void – a claim he rejects. 

Lazio are involved in a title race and are desperate for the season to come to a conclusion

”You don’t want to play to save yourself,’ – Lotito shouted these words at me. He will do everything because he thinks he can win the championship. 

I don’t give a damn about coming back. I make a general plea. Concluding the season in June is an impossible and risky tour de force. 

‘To prolong the season you would have to change all national and international rules: player contracts, balance sheets, deadlines with banks, transfer market, preparation, start of the new season. It would be absolute chaos.’ 

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

Wimbledon has been cancelled for the first time since World War II as All England Club chiefs called the tournament off at an emergency meeting.

It was considered impossible for the tournament to be moved back to later in the year, or to be played without fans, and so chiefs have pulled the plug entirely.

This is the first time that Wimbledon will not be staged since 1945. Only one Grand Slam has missed a year since the war, the 1986 Australian Open, and that was for the technical reason of the date shifting forward from December into January. 

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.   

Wimbledon has been cancelled for the first time since World War II

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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