Cheltenham announces first coronavirus case; Champions Cup games still set to go ahead

Six Nations organisers have confirmed that Ireland's clash with France in Paris has been postponed, following instructions received from the authorities in France.

Cheltenham announces first coronavirus case; Champions Cup games still set to go ahead

Update - 17.26: All sporting activity at all levels in Italy has been suspended until April 3 at the earliest, the Italian national Olympic committee (CONI) has announced.

This includes all matches in Serie A, Italy’s highest football division, but does not cover Italian clubs or national teams competing in international competitions such as the Champions League.

Italy has been the European country worst hit by the coronavirus so far, with over 7,000 confirmed cases and 300 deaths so far.

The organisers of rugby union’s European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup competitions, EPCR, say the quarter-final ties scheduled for the weekend of April 3-5 are still set to go ahead.

In a statement, the EPCR said it "intends to complete all eight fixtures and will continue to monitor developments while liaising with the relevant league and union bodies, as well as governments and local authorities.

"EPCR is fully supportive of any preventative measures that might be required in the interests of overall public health in relation to Covid-19 and will respect instructions provided by authorities."

A definitive answer is expected in the next 24 hours over whether the rugby league match between Catalans Dragons and Leeds, due to be played on Saturday, can go ahead.

Update - 16.10: The Slovak FA say they will respect the decision of health officials there regarding this month's Euro 2020 playoff with the Republic of Ireland.

The FAI said that as of today, the game is scheduled to go ahead as planned but talks will continue involving all parties.

The FAI said: "The Slovakian FA are in constant communication with their Government and health officials and will inform us immediately of any update.

"The Football Association of Ireland is in communication with the Slovakian FA and local authorities regarding the UEFA Euro 2020 Play-Off in Bratislava scheduled for March 26th and is also engaged in talks around the fixture with UEFA and the Irish Embassy in Slovakia."

As of this morning, five cases of coronavirus had been reported in Slovakia with all schools in Bratislava closed.

Up to 2,200 Irish fans are due to travel to the Slovak capital on March 26, but the game being played behind closed doors appears more likely

The FAI have dispensed with pre-match handshakes for all games under their jurisdiction.

The directive will remain in place until further notice.

Update - 15.10: The lighting of the Olympic flame ahead of this summer’s Tokyo 2020 Games will take place without spectators present, organisers have said.

“Today, the Hellenic Olympic Committee announced that the lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame will take place without spectators present,” a statement from Tokyo 2020 read.

“One hundred accredited guests from the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo 2020 organising committee will participate. Tokyo 2020 is grateful for the efforts of all parties involved to ensure that the ceremony will take place while taking into consideration the latest countermeasures by the Hellenic government against Covid-19.

“As part of Tokyo 2020’s commitment to delivering a safe and secure torch relay, the organising committee will reduce the size of its travelling delegation as much as possible, and will take every consideration for protecting public health as Tokyo 2020 participates in the lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame.”

Update - 13.47: Local media is reporting that Cheltenham town has its first case of coronavirus. Gloucestershire County Council has confirmed the case.

It comes a day ahead of the big festival which is due to see thousands of Irish fans travelling to enjoy the four days of racing.

Cheltenham Racecourse yesterday told GloucestershireLive it is 'business as usual' at the Festival but that it is following British government and public health advice.

The prospect of sports events being held behind closed doors in the UK was “not something that is being put forward at this particular moment in time”, the British Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.

A sign on a mobile Pharmacy instructing people to wash their hands during preview day at Cheltenham Racecourse today. Pic: PA
A sign on a mobile Pharmacy instructing people to wash their hands during preview day at Cheltenham Racecourse today. Pic: PA

“You will have seen the Prime Minister at the rugby at the weekend.”

The number of cases in England has risen by 46 between 9am on Sunday and 9am today.

Britain's Department of Health said a total of 24,960 people have been tested with 24,641 negative results.

Three patients have died after testing positive for the illness.

The UK's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) department released a statement following today’s meeting of sport's governing bodies and broadcasters in London which read: “Senior government officials chaired a constructive meeting of sports and broadcast partners, as part of sensible contingency planning in relation to Covid-19.

“This included a discussion of how staging sporting events behind closed doors could work in practice, should the situation change and become necessary.

“However based upon the current scientific advice from the Government’s medical experts there is no rationale to close or cancel sporting events as things stand.

“We will remain in regular dialogue with sports governing bodies and broadcasters, ensuring they are in receipt of the most up to date guidance from the health authorities.”

It is understood BT and Sky Sports representatives were present, as well as those from terrestrial television networks and radio.

The PA News agency understands no clinicians were present at the meeting.

Earlier: Six Nations confirms postponement of Ireland's clash in France

Six Nations organisers have confirmed that Ireland's clash with France in Paris has been postponed, following instructions received from the authorities in France.

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell says his side are "gutted" about the postponement.

However, tournament organisers are still awaiting confirmation for the Women’s and U20s fixtures.

The Six Nations game between Wales and Scotland is still going ahead, as is the U20s Six Nations match, but the fixture between Wales Women and Scotland Women is postponed after a Scottish player tested positive for Covid-19 and another seven members of the Scotland camp are self-isolating.

The other game scheduled to take place this weekend – Italy against England – was postponed last week.

They added that they have yet to set dates for the rescheduled matches.

France's Sports Minister confirms postponement of Ireland's Six Nations clash in France

France's Sports Minister has confirmed that France's Six Nations game against Ireland has been postponed

No date has been set for the rescheduled match, the Minister of Youth and Sport Roxana Maracineanu said.

Ms Maracineanu told a press conference that the match "will be postponed in agreement with the French Rugby Federation and tournament organisers".

Ms Maracineanu added that she would prefer to see matches played behind closed doors rather than be postponed. "We advocate sporting continuity," she said, adding it was not possible to rearrange the Champions League match between Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund due to football's congested fixture list.

Matches, even those that take place in front of empty stands, will be televised as normal she said. "Closed-door can become our doctrine for organising sports events," she insisted.

Meanwhile, the Paris-Nice cycling race will go ahead as scheduled, but there will be restrictions on the number of spectators.

Meanwhile, Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney has told media, after a meeting with other governing bodies and broadcasters in London, that there was “no medical rationale” for cancelling matches or playing them behind closed doors as things stood.

Officials from a number of different sports gathered in the English capital to discuss the impact of the coronavirus.

Mr Sweeney said: “It was a very good meeting – the start of dialogue together,.

“There was no medical rationale for cancelling events or (playing them) behind closed doors yet, but clearly it is a moving situation so we’ll keep talking and go from there.”

Asked whether the Wales versus Scotland Six Nations match would go ahead this weekend, Sweeney added: “I think it looks good, I don’t see any reason why that would not proceed.

“The basic message coming out of today is let’s not panic, let’s monitor the situation and carry on as normal.”

Sweeney also faced questions over when the Italy versus England game, which had been due to take place on Saturday, would now be played.

“We are working on that right now. We are working with the Six Nations and the Italian federation and we’ll find a date that works for both teams,” he said.

Tottenham Hotspur's Erik Lamela during a training session at the Tottenham Hotspur Training Ground in Enfield today. Pic: PA
Tottenham Hotspur's Erik Lamela during a training session at the Tottenham Hotspur Training Ground in Enfield today. Pic: PA

Premier League executive director Bush did not wish to comment on the possibility of matches being played behind closed doors when he came out of the meeting.

“I am not going to comment on things that are speculative,” he said.

“You are better off waiting for the Cobra meeting to finish. They will have the national or sector view. This wasn’t that kind of meeting.”

Reports: Ireland's Six Nations clash in France postponed

There are reports coming out of France that Ireland's Six Nations clash this Saturday in Paris has been called off over the coronavirus.

The Midi Olympique is reporting that the tournament's committee has also decided to postpone Wales's Cardiff clash against Scotland that day, following telephone discussions between the Six Nations unions this morning.

The virus has already led to the postponement of Ireland's clash with Italy - with no date set yet for the re-fixture. Italy's game against England was also postponed earlier.

They have re-scheduled all the final weekend's Six Nation's fixtures for October 31, a week before the planned November Series.

However, a Six Nations spokesperson said no final decision has been made yet and they are awaiting directives from the governments in France and England, as well as the respective rugby unions, before taking any final action. The IRFU are yet to comment on the reports.

The spread of Covid-19 in France has forced the government over the weekend to introduce more stringent public health measures. On Sunday afternoon, health officials said there were 1,126 confirmed cases in France, an increase of 177 in 24 hours. A total 19 people had died from the virus.

"We are still at stage 2, our priority is to do everything we can to slow down the circulation of the virus on national territory," Health Minister Olivier Véran said as he updated journalists on the latest figures and imposed stricter public health measures.

He said an earlier ban on gatherings of more than 5,000 people in confined spaces would be cut to 1,000 people. It was later confirmed that, as expected, the Champions League last-16 second-leg match between Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund this week will be played behind closed doors following a decision by the Paris police.

The Six Nations committee was in favour of postponing the remaining games rather than play them in front of empty stands, the French rugby paper said. It intends to reschedule all three final round games for the final weekend in October, a date already pencilled in for Italy v England.

Ireland's game against Italy would have to be played the weekend before, it suggested.

The prefect of Seine-Saint-Denis had issued a statement on Friday saying the game against Ireland would go ahead as scheduled, and was planning to disinfect Stade de France before the match, as well as impose 'maximum sanitary precautions' for fans.

Football’s world governing body FIFA has said that 2022 World Cup qualifying matches in Asia due to be played later this month and in June had been postponed.

However, there was scope for individual national associations to still stage matches in the March and June international breaks if they mutually agreed to, and that the safety of all individuals met the required standards. FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation would also have to give their approval to any match going ahead.

The qualifiers for the men’s and women’s Olympic football tournament are set to be played as scheduled, with the exception of the women’s qualifying play-off between South Korea and China which has been postponed until the June international window.

“FIFA and the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) will continue to assess the situation in relation to Covid-19 and will decide whether further changes to the schedule of Asian FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifiers are required, always with the aim of protecting the safety and health of all individuals involved,” the governing body said in a statement.

Earlier, The BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells will not take place due to the coronavirus, organisers have said.

Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Kim Clijsters were among the players due to take part in the tournament which was due to start in California on Monday.

A statement from the organisers said: “As a result, the 2020 BNP Paribas Open will not take place at this time due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus and the safety of the participants and attendees at the event.

“This is following the guidance of medical professionals, the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), and State of California.”

Nadal wrote on Twitter: “You probably all heard the news. Indian Wells cancelled.

“We are here and still deciding what’s next. So sad for all that is happening around the world with this situation.

“Hopefully soon solutions from the authorities. Stay all well and safe.”

- Additional reporting by Press Association and James Harrington.

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