Daily Briefing

Sport shorts: F1 turns to esports with launch of virtual grand prix series and Gareth Southgate writes open letter to fans

Ten things from the world of sport on Friday 20 March

1. F1 races go virtual

What a week it’s been for Formula 1. Seven days ago the Australian Grand Prix was cancelled because of the coronavirus and races have also been called off in Bahrain, Vietnam, China, the Netherlands, Spain and Monaco.   

The huge disruption to the 2020 season forced a change in the dates of the summer shutdown and yesterday F1, the FIA and all ten teams unanimously agreed to delay the introduction of the 2021 technical regulations by a year to 2022.

Fans will have to wait until June at the earliest to see their favourite drivers return to the track but in the meantime they will be able to watch a digital version of the grands prix.

F1 has today announced the launch of a new F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series, featuring a number of current F1 drivers. 

A statement said: “The series has been created to enable fans to continue watching Formula 1 races virtually, despite the ongoing COVID-19 situation that has affected this season’s opening race calendar. 

“The virtual races will run in place of every postponed grand prix, starting this weekend with the Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday 22 March.” 

Starting at 8pm (GMT), Sunday’s Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix will be available to watch on the official Formula 1 YouTube, Twitch and Facebook channels. 

The race is expected to run for 1 hour 30 minutes, with a qualifying period where grid positions will be determined based on the drivers’ fastest lap time.

2. No Monaco GP in 2020

Yesterday it was first announced that the Formula 1 Dutch, Spanish and Monaco grands prix had been postponed, but it was later confirmed that the Monaco race was in fact cancelled.  

This means that for the first time since 1954 the streets of Monte-Carlo will not host F1’s grandest event. The Historic Monaco Grand Prix, which is held ahead of the F1 race, has also been cancelled. 

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3. Southgate pens open letter to fans

Gareth Southgate has urged football fans to “look out for each other” during what the England head coach calls the “most extreme test that we’ve faced collectively in decades”.

In an open letter the Three Lions boss said: “In the way you’ve all come together to support our team, we must now work together to combat a virus that is causing physical and emotional issues to so many. 

“We were due to play next week and to represent you all this summer, but now is clearly not the moment for us to take centre-stage. The heroes will be the men and women who continue working tirelessly in our hospitals and medical centres to look after our friends and families.”

Classy and exemplary: Gareth Southgate is praised for his leadership

4. Scottish football remains suspended 

Scottish football bosses followed their English counterparts in suspending all matches until 30 April at the very earliest. 

A statement said: “The Scottish FA reiterates that all football in Scotland, both domestic and professional, remains suspended indefinitely. For the benefit of planning, the Scottish FA confirms that football in Scotland will not resume before 30 April. 

“It remains Scottish football’s firm intention to begin the 2020-21 season as soon as is practicably possible later this year.”

Coronavirus: sport industry faces wage cuts, bailouts and financial ruin

5. Rugby season over except for Premiership

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) has confirmed that the 2019/20 season is over in England except for the Premiership as talks are still ongoing. 

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney said: “The Rugby Football Union is announcing the end of the 2019/20 rugby season for all league, cup and county rugby in England. The only exception to this is the Gallagher Premiership, who we are in active discussions with to review possible best next steps.”

6. RIP Whitts 

Cardiff City have paid tribute to former midfielder Peter Whittingham who has died at the age of 35. 

The playmaker, who also had spells with Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers, had been in hospital for more than a week after suffering a head injury following a fall in a pub in Barry.

Whittingham, who was capped by England Under-21s, joined Cardiff in 2007 and made 459 appearances and scored 98 goals before leaving in 2017. 

“We are heartbroken,” Cardiff said in a statement. “He excelled with talent, ease, grace and humility. Nobody did it better.”

7. World Snooker Championship postponed

Another major sporting event postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic is the World Snooker Championship. 

It was scheduled to take place at the Crucible in Sheffield from 18 April to 4 May but organisers hope to rearrange in July or August, BBC reports. 

World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn said: “These are tough times for everyone but we are determined to get through it. Fans around the world - as well as the 144 players involved - are anxious to know if and when the World Championship will go ahead. 

“I can assure everyone that we are doing all we can alongside our broadcasters, the venues and other partners to confirm new dates as soon as possible.”

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8. Return of king Eric? 

The Daily Mirror has a story on its back page that will be a shot in the arm for Manchester United fans in these worrying times; namely, the claim that Eric Cantona could be set for a return to Old Trafford. 

The French maestro, known as “the king” during his days at the club in the 1990s, could be hired in what the Mirror describes as an “ambassadorial role”. 

The 53-year-old remains a legend in Manchester and the United board believe that having Cantona around Old Trafford would be a “major vote winner for the current club hierarchy as they stay in touch with the glorious past”.

9. United ‘enquire’ about Coutinho

Chelsea have been linked with a move for Barcelona’s Philippe Coutinho and now Manchester United have reportedly made an enquiry over the Brazilian’s availability. 

Sky Sports reports that United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is “mulling over bringing the former Liverpool playmaker back to the Premier League”. 

Coutinho is currently on loan at German giants Bayern Munich. 

Pogba’s Man Utd career is ‘over’ and Chelsea are keen on Coutinho

10. Back pages: Premier League will finish season 

The dominant story on today’s back pages is the bullish message from the football authorities that the Premier League season will be finished no matter what. 

“We’ll win it in extra time”, is the headline in the Daily Mirror, above a photo of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, and the German also adorns the back of the Daily Express and the Daily Star. 

The Star’s headline is “we’ll get the job done”, and the paper adds that the Premier League “vows to finish the season when the outbreak is over”.

Today’s back pages

Premier League goes into extra time

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