After seven weeks of having to make do with whatever training facilities exist in or near their houses, elite-level athletes have now been given a path to resuming normal training while adhering to strict social-distancing measures. However, formalised training for lower-level athletes remains suspended. International competition — in the form of the Diamond League — has been delayed until mid-August, when a packed two-month season will begin. What that will look like remains uncertain.
Terri Harper’s defence of the WBC super featherweight title against Natasha Jonas was postponed, while Katie Taylor has been forced to wait to defend her lightweight titles. There are events tentatively scheduled for mid-July, according to the British Boxing Board of Control, but they will take place behind closed doors with no audience. Harper-Jonas is a possibility for the summer, given that both women are British and UK-based.
The highs of record-breaking crowds and viewing figures for the T20 World Cup in March has been followed by a bleak outlook for the rest of the year. The qualifying tournament for next year’s World Cup has been postponed, and the ECB’s women’s director Clare Connor admitted there is a chance the women’s game may have to be sacrificed this year so that the revenue-driving men’s fixtures can go ahead at the few grounds that fulfil new health and safety guidelines.
With teams almost entirely dependent on sponsors, there are fears a number of squads could go under before the end of 2020. We’ve already seen the cancellation of the two biggest women’s races in Britain: the Tour de Yorkshire and next month’s Women’s Tour. The UCI has tried desperately to move things around, optimistically packing a season’s worth of races into three months from August-October. And the inclusion of a first ever women’s Paris-Roubaix in that provisional calendar is exciting.
The global players’ union, Fifpro, warned that coronavirus presents an “existential threat” to women’s football unless precautions are taken. That only one club, AFC Fylde, has folded to date is reassuring but also ominous. Does this mean clubs have recognised the importance of their teams and are eager to safeguard them, or is the worst still to come? It will be difficult to gauge how much, if any, post-World Cup momentum has been lost until the game resumes.
With the Korean tour already back on its feet — having contested the KLPGA Championship last week — the LPGA Tour plans to restart in late July, meaning a five-month lay-off for the US circuit. LPGA chief executive Mike Whan has conceded the financial impact has been “staggering” but is certain the funds are there to survive. The Ladies European Tour is not sure when it will resume, but last year’s merger with the LPGA has safeguarded its immediate future.
Gymnasts have been locked down at home, going through their own conditioning routines, and awaiting confirmation that they can return to normal training in the gym. The usual advice to gymnasts who have been away from their apparatus is that, for every month out, it takes two months to regain competitive performance levels. Even so, there is no great sense of urgency yet. The expectation at British Gymnastics is that elite events will not crank up again until spring 2021.
The domestic season was resolved, with only the playoffs having to be scrapped. However, the Olympics delay is being felt, as Great Britain have no platform to prove their worth this year. In another setback, long-time sponsor of the domestic league, Investec, have announced they will not renew their contract when it runs out in August, and one can only hope it is not a sign of investment downturn to come.
Concerns for the short-term future of netball in Britain are considerable. Any resumption of the Superleague depends on being able to gain access to venues to train in. As a semi-professional sport in Britain, netball facilities are not owned by clubs, which creates major problems for bringing players and teams together. Is it better to host the entire competition at one venue or switch it to a one-off World Cup-style event? The solution remains unclear.
No racing has taken place since March 17, but flat racing is due to start at Newcastle on June 1 while jump racing is expected to start a month later. Jockeys, trainers, stable staff and horses, certainly in flat yards, have been doing almost exactly as they would have done anyway — preparing horses to run — except not going racing. Most trainers or jockeys are freelance or self-employed and are champing at the bit to return. Prize-money is where nearly everyone makes their profit or living.
Having expanded from four teams in 2017, when it was launched by the Rugby Football League, to ten this season, Betfred’s sponsorship of the Women’s Super League will be key to sustain the momentum the top flight has built in recent years. A £16 million emergency bail-out for teams in the professional men’s Super League should ensure the continual alignment of Super League teams with women’s sides, who are supported mainly through clubs’ community foundations.
Just 40 days separate the end of the postponed Tokyo Games and the start of the World Cup in New Zealand, which could force several unions to start formally separating their XVs and sevens programmes. Despite voiding the Premier 15s, the RFU is expected to ring-fence funding to the elite amateur competition, as well as contracts of England XVs women’s players, which were rolled out in January 2019 and worth up to £30 000 a year.
Professional tours have been suspended until at least Aug 1, leaving a handful of the more fortunate players to play for small prize money packets at improvised local events such as Germany’s Tennis Point Exhibition Series. Wimbledon has been cancelled but the year’s two remaining slams, the US Open and French Open, are still looking for a way to take place — probably behind closed doors. With the whole sport in flux, governing bodies are providing small relief payments to struggling players and facilities. — Telegraph UK