Daily Briefing

Sports shorts: Chelsea and Barcelona to play behind closed doors, Cheltenham under way

Ten things from the world of sport on Tuesday 10 March

1. Coronavirus 'could bankrupt clubs'

English Football league clubs fear going out of business if matches have to be played in empty stadiums because of the coronavirus outbreak, reports The Guardian. Clubs, particularly those in League One and League Two, are “seriously worried about the likely financial impact if they cannot sell tickets to matches and have to repay season ticket holders”, says the paper. However, the government met sports bodies on Monday and insisted that currently there was “no rationale” for postponing matches or banning spectators from sporting events. The meeting came on the day Ireland’s Six Nations match against France was postponed until October and the Indian Wells tennis tournament in the US was cancelled.

2. Chelsea and Barcelona play behind closed doors

Chelsea’s Champions League tie against Bayern Munich next week is the latest big game set to be played behind closed doors, due to fears over the coronavirus. The Blues are 3-0 down from the first-leg at Stamford Bridge and face an uphill task to progress past the German champions. Now reports from Germany suggest the Bavarian government is set to cancel or restrict events which will attract over 1,000 spectators to keep the outbreak in check. Barcelona’s Champions League last-16 second leg match with Napoli, scheduled for 18 March, will also take place without spectators. The games between PSG and Borussia Dortmund and Valencia and Atlanta are also being played without fans while Wolves’ Europa League tie against Olympiakos will also take place in an empty stadium.

3. All sport in Italy suspended

All sporting events in Italy have been suspended until April 3 due to the spread of the coronavirus. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte extended a series of quarantine measures, including a ban on public gatherings, to all of Italy and said: “There’s no reason for the games to continue. The fans will have to deal with it. We won’t even allow gyms to be used.” The suspension applies to Serie A football but Serie A but not to clubs or national teams participating in international competitions. Italy’s top sports body, the Italian Olympic Committee, had earlier called for all sports to be halted until next month and asked the government to enforce the measure.

4. Cheltenham gets underway

The Cheltenham festival gets underway today, despite fears over the coronavirus outbreak. Around 250,000 spectators are expected to attend the four days of racing and organisers have hired extra bathroom attendants and installed in 300 hand sanitiser dispensers and 24 hygiene stations around the course. “After all the will-it-won’t-it chat, relief that the meeting is finally over the start line means the famous roar of approval, which traditionally greets the first race on the first day, could be louder and longer than normal,” says Marcus Armytage of the Daily Telegraph.  He tips favourite Epatante to triumph in the big race of the first day, the Unibet Champions Hurdle.

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5. Man Utd plot £100m transfer swoop

Manchester United are planning a £100m swoop on Birmingham and Aston Villa for Jude Bellingham and Jack Grealish this summer. Talks over a deal for 16-year-old midfielder Bellingham are already underway after he travelled to Manchester to meet club officials, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. He spent several hours at the club’s training complex and was accompanied by his parents before being driven away. As he is still only 16 he cannot sign a professional deal until June. Meanwhile, it has also been reported that United are willing to pay up to £70m to land 24-year-old Aston Villa skipper Grealish this summer. His current Villa deal - which runs until 2023 – does not have a buy-out clause, so United will have to spend big to land him.

6. Mourinho urges Spurs to 'dare'

Jose Mourinho insists that Spurs can overcome Red Bull Leipzig in the Champions league tonight despite a lengthy injury list and 1-0 deficit from the first leg. Ahead of the clash he invoked the Spurs motto “To Dare Is To Do” and said his team would stay optimistic. But his side were dealt a fresh blow on Monday when it was confirmed that winger Steven Bergwijn is unlikely to feature again this season with an ankle problem. Forward Dele Alli backed his manager and said there was no time to “get the violins out” and called on Spurs to “step up” against their German opponents.

7. Marler cited over Jones incident

England prop Joe Marler’s season could be over after he was cited for his “intimate” assault on Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones during Saturday’s Six Nations clash. “Marler will attend a disciplinary hearing on Thursday and if found guilty he can expect a ban of at least 12 weeks,” reports The Guardian.  He has been cited under World Rugby’s law that states players must not “grab, twist or squeeze the genitals”. The “bizarre incident… was caught on camera and quickly went viral during the match”, says the paper. “It has polarised opinion – dismissed as a light-hearted attempt to wind-up the Wales captain in some quarters and met with condemnation in others.” Marler will have company on Thursday with Courtney Lawes also cited for a dangerous tackle on Jones, while Manu Tuilagi will also face the music after being sent off for a head-high tackle on George North.

8. Alan Green set to leave BBC

Veteran football commentator Alan Green will not have his BBC contract renewed when it expires this summer, reveals The Times. Green, 67, who has worked for the broadcaster for 45 years told the paper: “I feel a mixture of disappointment and anger. I don’t think it’s justified. I was basically told, ‘You don’t fit our profile.’ I got a fair idea of what they meant by just listening to the output over the last year or so. It’s not the organisation I loved for so many years.” He follows Mark Pougatch and racing correspondent Cornelius Lysaght who have also been discarded by the BBC.

9. Vardy back as Leicester thrash Villa

Jamie Vardy ended a three-month goal drought as he came off the bench to score twice as Leicester City thrashed struggling Aston Villa 4-0 in the Premier League. Leicester had only two points from their previous four matches but rediscovered their form at the King Power stadium. Ashley Barnes gave them a first half lead before Vardy made his entrance in the second half. The Foxes striker had not scored since December but his first contribution was to score a penalty. He found the net again 16 minutes later and Barnes added a fourth late on. “Vardy only had seven touches of the ball - but two of them were goals,” notes the BBC. “The result boosts Leicester's Champions League chances, with the 2016 title-winners sitting eight points above fifth-placed Manchester United with nine matches remaining.” Things aren’t so rosy for Villa who lie 19th and now face fixtures against Chelsea, Wolves, Liverpool and Manchester City.

10. Wilder looking forward to Fury rematch

Deontay Wilder is “counting down the days” until his rematch with British heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, reports Mail Online. The Bronze Bomber triggered a clause in the contract and will now fight Fury for a third time, with a fight date in July on the cards. “While most boxing fans now want an all-British unification fight between Fury and Anthony Joshua, that is not on the near-horizon with Joshua fighting Kubrat Pulev at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on June 20,” says the Mail. “As AJ takes on the Bulgarian, Fury will likely face Wilder for a third time with the new Allegiant Stadium, which will be home to the relocated NFL franchise the Las Vegas Raiders, the frontrunner to host the fight.”

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