The state of Rio de Janeiro will allow football fans into stadiums from July 10, initially at one-third capacity, according to an official decree.
Capacity will move to two-thirds from August 1, while stadiums will be able to function with no restrictions from August 16, said the decree published by Rio townhall on Friday.
The initial easing must allow for 4 sqm per person and ticket sales will only be online.
The Rio state championship has been the first to resume in South America, a region hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
The league, comprising professional teams within Rio state, resumed behind closed doors on June 18.
Brazil has the second-highest number of infections and deaths from the new coronavirus worldwide, after the United States: more than 1.2 million and 55,000, respectively.
And one of Brazil’s top football clubs, Fluminense, won its battle Friday not to play matches at a stadium also serving as a coronavirus hospital, which it argued was disrespectful to victims and their families.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said on Wednesday that the French football league’s decision in April, guided by the government, to end its season was premature.
“It’s the decision of the French League, the French Federation and of course the French authorities. My personal opinion is that the decision was brought quite early,” said Ceferin at a press conference on the plans for the resumption of European competitions.
UEFA announced that the Champions League will be completed in a ‘Final Eight’ in Lisbon in August.
Lyon, who still have to play their last-16 second leg tie against Juventus, and quarter-finalists Paris Saint-Germain are among 12 surviving teams.
With France’s Ligue 1 already ended, when Lyon attempt to defend their 1-0 lead over Juventus, either in Portugal or in Turin and probably on the weekend of August 7-8, the French club will not have played a match for almost five months.
PSG would return to action in the quarterfinal in Lisbon on August 12-15. They last played when they beat Borussia Dortmund on March 11.
In contrast, the 10 other clubs still in the Champions League all play in leagues that have resumed.
Ceferin said it was unclear if the French clubs would be harmed by their lack of domestic action.
“This season is very special, it will finish differently, so it is very hard to see what exactly is an advantage or disadvantage,” the Slovenian said.
The French League declared the 2019-2020 season over on April 30, two days after Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said in a speech that the “2019-20 season of professional sports, particularly football, will not be able to resume”.
PSG were crowned champions. UEFA repeated on Wednesday that it wanted the names of clubs qualifying for next season’s European cup competitions as early as August 3.
Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas, whose club will miss out on European football next season unless they win the Champions League, is challenging the way the French league ended in court.
When the 100 day-wait for Premier League football comes to an end on Wednesday, the anticipation will be felt as keenly in Mumbai and Beijing as in Manchester and Birmingham.
The global reach of the English top-flight has helped secure its position as the wealthiest league in world football.
The Premier League’s overseas television rights deals for the 2019-2022 three-season cycle hit a record £4.2 billion ($5.3 billion) and another £2 billion deal has already been struck for Scandinavian rights between 2022 and 2028.
That income will be all the more welcome, with uncertainty over when supporters will be allowed back into stadiums and commercial revenues expected to tumble in a global economic crisis.
However, without the atmosphere generated by baying fans, the Premier League’s appeal may be diminished in football’s new normal.
“What makes it special in England is the way people react to the game,” former Arsenal manager and FIFA’s chief of global football development Arsene Wenger told The Athletic.
“It is the best country in the world for the way the fans respond to what’s happening on the pitch. That’s why I think it will be the most handicapped championship without that.”
– Reschedule rebate –
The need to cram the remaining 92 games of the season into a five-and-a-half week window also means many more midweek games with evening kick-offs in England, forcing fans in the Far East to tune in during the early hours.
Overseas broadcasters will be compensated with a reported £107 million rebate due to the change in scheduling.
However, the excitement over the Premier League’s return endures, particularly among the huge number of Liverpool fans, many of whom are awaiting a first league title in their lifetimes.
Jurgen Klopp’s men are just two wins away from being crowned champions of England for the first time in 30 years.
Hu Zhifei, a 26-year-old journalist and member of Liverpool’s official fan club in Beijing, had planned a trip to see his heroes in action in February that was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Nobody is anticipating the league’s restart more than Liverpool fans because we are within two wins of the title,” said Hu, who will tune in to watch the Reds via internet streaming despite kick-offs in the early hours.
Excitement is also building in India, where the Premier League has built up a strong following among urban youth in a traditionally cricket-obsessed nation.
“Finally I’ll watch some live EPL action. I have already chalked out a schedule for these matches,” Qazi Ahmad Masood, a 17-year-old student, told AFP. “I would love to see my favourite club Liverpool lift the trophy.”
– ‘Fast and exciting’ –
One of the difficulties that lies ahead for the Premier League’s brand will be to maintain the intensity of competition on the field in echoing, empty stadiums.
“The Premier League is fast and exciting and no matter whether it is a strong or weak team, the games are great to watch,” said Hu.
Fans watching at home will be offered pre-recorded fan noise dubbed over the action to compensate for the real thing.
“There is something about the legend that is English football that is all about noise and atmosphere and proximity,” Simon Chadwick, director of Eurasian sport at Emlyon business school in France told AFP.
“That spectacle, the product, the noise, the atmosphere, the experience won’t necessarily be there.”
However, by overcoming a series of obstacles just to get back playing in the country that is the worst-hit by coronavirus in Europe, the Premier League is confident it will not lose ground in the long run against the Bundesliga, La Liga or Serie A in the battle for viewers across the globe.
“We know it won’t be the same without our loyal supporters in stadiums but, together with our broadcast partners, we are able to ensure fans can watch or listen to each match live from home,” said the Premier League’s chief executive Richard Masters.
Lionel Messi returned without a beard and with a goal and two assists as Barcelona resumed their La Liga title challenge on Saturday with a thumping 4-0 victory over Real Mallorca.
After three months away because of the coronavirus pandemic, Barca exploded into the lead with just 64 seconds played when Arturo Vidal headed in and Martin Braithwaite struck a second from a Messi headed assist.
Jordi Alba latched onto a Messi pass to add a third but not before play was briefly stopped by a pitch invader, who was able to run on, despite the match being closed to fans.
Messi then scored a fourth in injury time for his 25th goal of the season.
“I’m happy because starting like this is an enormous boost for what’s to come,” said Barcelona coach Quique Setien.
Victory extends Barca’s advantage at the top of La Liga to five points over Real Madrid, who can reduce the gap back to two when they restart at home to Eibar on Sunday.
La Liga’s first match back came on Thursday between Sevilla and Real Betis, with teams scheduled to each play their remaining 11 matches of the season in less than six weeks.
Messi will be crucial to Barcelona’s hopes of holding off Madrid but their captain, who turns 33 this month, may have to pace himself, especially after an injury-interrupted season.
Clean shaven, and without any sign of the thigh problem that prevented him from training earlier this month, Messi played 90 minutes and looked like he had never been away.
– Suarez back –
His goal was set up by Luis Suarez and the sight of the Uruguayan coming off the bench would have been welcome for coach Setien too.
Suarez has not played since undergoing knee surgery in January and was able to recover during the suspension. He could play an important part in the run-in.
Asked what pleased him most, Setien said: “The satisfaction of seeing Luis again on the field. You have to admire the performance he gave in those 35 minutes that he played. Starting like this is very important for him and for the team as well.”
Mallorca, who sit 18th in La Liga, were never going to offer the sternest of tests but this was a useful outing for both Barcelona’s fitness and morale.
Before matches were suspended in Spain because of coronavirus on March 12, Barca had regained top spot but only after being convincingly beaten by Madrid the week before.
This performance suggests time away might have done them good and it remains to be seen now how Madrid respond. Madrid’s next four matches all come after their title rivals have played first.
Barcelona were in front after just over a minute as Frenkie de Jong did well to recover the ball from a loose touch before Alba sent a deep cross to the arriving Vidal, who headed in.
Mallorca were under relentless pressure as Braithwaite and Messi both went close to adding a second. Mallorca’s Takefusa Kubo, on loan from Real Madrid, forced a good save out of Marc-Andre ter Stegen on the break.
But Barca scored a second before half-time as an Alba cross span up and both De Jong and then Messi feathered headers across for Braithwaite to bang in on the half-volley, his first goal for the club.
Both teams eased off in the second period and there were smiles on the Barcelona players’ faces when a pitch invader ran on in the 52nd minute wearing an Argentina shirt. He posed for a picture with Alba before being escorted away.
Alba added a third after finishing off Messi’s clipped ball over the top and then Messi grabbed a goal himself. Suarez fooled his marker by letting the ball run across his body and Messi weaved inside where he could unleash with his right foot.
Mallorca’s defeat, combined with losses for Leganes and Celta Vigo, made it the perfect day for Espanyol, who made up ground on their relegation rivals by beating Alaves.
Chinese striker Wu Lei, who tested positive for coronavirus in March, scored on his first game back to seal a 2-0 victory and put Espanyol within three points of safety.
They are now level on points with Leganes, who lost 2-1 at home to Real Valladolid, and three behind Celta, who conceded in the 91st minute for a 1-0 defeat by Villarreal.
La Liga is back after a three-month coronavirus shutdown with games behind closed doors, and with Lionel Messi looking different but playing like he always does.
AFP Sport picks out some of the standout images of the return of top-flight football in Spain:
– Messi back with new look –
More than three months had passed since Messi’s last appearance on a football field. The six-time Ballon d’Or winner will be 33 in little over a week, but while he approaches veteran status, his post-lockdown look is more of a reminder of the young Messi.
The hair is longer and swept over to one side. Most strikingly the beard has gone, leaving the Argentine looking fresh-faced.
La Liga’s leading scorer looked sharp with the ball at his feet too, and scored the final goal of a 4-0 win away in Mallorca — after earlier strikes by Arturo Vidal, Martin Braithwaite and Jordi Alba — as Barcelona moved five points clear of title tivals Real Madrid, who play on Sunday.
– Virus victims remembered –
La Liga’s return is a boost for a football-mad country that has been ravaged by the coronavirus, with more than 27,000 officially recorded deaths making it one of the worst-hit nations worldwide in the pandemic.
Like other sports competitions getting going again, strict health protocols mean games in Spain are being played behind closed doors, ensuring unusual atmospheres at matches that would otherwise go ahead in front of large crowds like the derby between Valencia and Levante.
At Mestalla, as elsewhere, a minute’s silence was held before kick-off to remember those victims of Covid-19.
– The new matchday experience –
Without access to stadiums, supporters are still coming together to watch games. However, only a limited number of Barcelona fans could access this supporters’ club in the Catalan capital to watch their team’s game against Mallorca.
Spaced out to respect social distancing measures, and wearing face masks, they took in Barca’s win which allowed the defending champions to extend their lead at the top of the table.
Without fans inside grounds, broadcasters have instead been projecting virtual crowds taken from the computer game FIFA onto seats, and adding crowd chants.
– Suarez boon for Barca –
Barcelona’s first game since March also saw Luis Suarez make his first appearance since early January after injury.
The Uruguayan underwent surgery on a knee problem that at one point threatened to rule him out of the rest of the season, but the coronavirus shutdown has allowed him to come back in time to play a potentially key role in the title run-in.
Suarez replaced Antoine Griezmann in the second half of Barca’s game at Mallorca. He didn’t find the net, but will have a big part to play in the weeks to come, with 10 games left for Quique Setien’s team as they try to fend off Real Madrid’s challenge.
Thousands of spectators will be able to attend an Australian Rules football match this weekend as the competition resumes after its coronavirus shutdown, officials announced Tuesday.
Saturday’s match between fierce rivals Port Adelaide and Adelaide will be open to just over 2,000 AFL fans in the South Australian city — the biggest sports crowd in the country for months.
About 2,000 people will be permitted to sit in Adelaide Oval’s general admission area, and another 240 in private rooms — well below the venue’s capacity of 53,000 people, to meet social distancing requirements.
South Australian Premier Steven Marshall said numbers would increase “slowly and gradually” throughout the season to ensure fans’ safety.
“Football and crowds are back in South Australia,” he said.
“South Australia will be the first with a significant number of people at an AFL match and the first time we have had a significant crowd at any sport in Australia for months and months and months.
Manchester City star Raheem Sterling has urged English football to use the global anti-racism protests to initiate debates and find solutions regarding the lack of black representation in top leadership positions in the sport.
Calling for racial justice, thousands of protesters have rallied across the UK, joining a wave of demonstrations sparked by the death of African American George Floyd at the hands of US police last month.
England forward Sterling, who has previously been prominent in calling out racism in both the domestic and international game, is the latest sports star to lend his support to the protests.
“The protest is a great starting point, to make your voice be heard. But just protesting alone is not going to make a change in this country,” Sterling said Monday in a BBC TV interview.
“It’s how we move on from here. It’s about highlighting things, the society that needs changing, and then acting upon it. We’ve done a lot of talking, and it’s time now to act.”
“This is a time to speak on these subjects, speak on injustice, especially in my field,” he added.
Sterling pointed a finger at the long-running disparity between the number of high-profile Black, Asian and minority ethnic players and the dearth of those who go on to hold significant managerial, coaching or administrative jobs.
“There’s something like 500 players in the Premier League and a third of them are black and we have no representation of us in the hierarchy, no representation of us in the coaching staff. There’s not a lot of faces that we can relate to and have conversations with,” he said.
“With these protests that are going on it’s all well and good just talking, but it’s time that we need to have conversations, to be able to spark debates.
“But at same time, it’s coming together and finding a solution to be able to spark change because we can talk as much as we want about changing and putting people, black people, in these positions that I do feel they should be in.”
– ‘Give equal chances’ –
Sterling contrasted the managerial paths of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, who have landed top roles at Rangers and Chelsea, to equally experienced black players who have been compelled to start much lower down the ladder.
“The coaching staff that you see around football clubs: there’s Steven Gerrard, your Frank Lampards, your Sol Campbells and your Ashley Coles. All had great careers, all played for England,” said Sterling.
“At the same time, they’ve all respectfully done their coaching badges to coach at the highest level and the two that haven’t been given the right opportunities are the two black former players.
“The change is being able to speak to people in Parliament, people at the hierarchy at my football club, football clubs across the country, people at the national team of England, to implement change and give equal chances to not just black coaches but also different ethnicities.
“I feel like that’s what’s lacking here, it’s not just taking the knee, it is about giving people the chance they deserve.”
Germany’s Bundesliga resumed earlier this month and La Liga in Spain hopes to return from June 11, while a crucial summit between Italian football officials and the country’s sports minister will be held later on Thursday.
Liverpool are 25 points clear at the top of the table while Bournemouth, Aston Villa and Norwich City are in the relegation places.
The leaders could clinch the title with victory in their first game back should second-placed Manchester City lose to Arsenal.
Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho spoke this week of his desperation to get playing again after seeing football resume elsewhere.
“Honestly, since the moment the Bundesliga started, the Portuguese league and Spanish league announced a date to start, I think it is the most difficult moment for us, because we want to play,” he told Sky Sports.
Some players have voiced fears over their safety and that of their families due to the virus.
Watford captain Troy Deeney has revealed that people have told him they want his baby son to contract coronavirus after he chose not to return to training.
Deeney has been absent from training since Watford and other Premier League clubs returned to non-contact sessions last week.
“I saw some comments in regards to my son, people saying: ‘I hope your son gets corona’,” Deeney told CNN Sport.
“That’s the hard part for me. If you respond to that, people then go: ‘Ah, we’ve got him’ and they keep doing it.”
Deeney is understood to be due to resume training next week.
Spanish media rejoiced on Sunday after the government said La Liga could resume, but restarting in June presents many challenges including summer heat, empty stadiums and health rules.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced on Saturday that football could return from its coronavirus lockdown in the week of June 8.
After closely observing as Bundesliga players acted as lab rats when their league became the first of the major European competitions to return last weekend, Spain, hard hit by the pandemic, will now take its turn.
La Liga has not yet specified when it will kick off or detailed the health protocols it will adopt, but is expected to do so within the next week, according to the Spanish press.
“La Liga is back,” exclaimed the front page of Spain’s best-selling daily Marca, which adorned its front page with a heart formed by the badges of the 20 Liga clubs. Madrid rival AS and Catalan newspaper Sport used the same headline.
Liga president Javier Tebas has been pushing for the league to resume on June 12, with the Seville derby between Real Betis and Sevilla as the curtain-raiser.
Tebas said on Saturday that he was “very happy” with the announcement, but added “We can’t let our guard down”.
The last 11 rounds of the season will be played behind closed doors at a time when most of the country can expect scorching heat.
At a meeting with La Liga over the weekend, the Spanish Football Players’ Association (AFE), called for cooling breaks during games when temperatures are between 28 and 32 degrees Celsius (82 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit), and for training and matches to be postponed when temperatures rise above 32 degrees, which is common in the height of summer in much of Spain.
Temperatures during training in Valencia on Saturday reached 28 degrees.
La Liga has eagerly announced there would be “football every day” of the week, but the AFE has demanded that clubs be allowed a compulsory gap of at least 72 hours between matches and the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) had already started a legal action to prevent that.
RFEF went to court at the start of the season and blocked La Liga, which wanted to maximise broadcast revenues, scheduling games on Monday. A final judgement is yet to be handed down.
– ‘Weird times’ –
Tebas estimated at the beginning of April that if La Liga did not resume broadcasting the losses would amount to a billion euros ($1.09 billion), compared with 300 million euros if it played without spectators.
Between now and the restart, the players, who switched from individual training to small group sessions on 18 May while continuing to observe strict health measures, will have almost three weeks to prepare.
The AFE demanded the players were given at least 15 to 20 days to get match fit.
“We want to return to the competition, but we have to go step by step to get back into shape,” Levante winger and captain Jose Luis Morales told Marca on Saturday. “We won’t have any games to test our fitness, we’ll go straight into the competition.”
The sentiment was echoed by Espanyol central defender Bernardo Espinosa.
“What we’re most concerned about is what can happen physically, injuries,” the Colombian told his club’s website on Friday. “These two months have increased the risk of injury.”
“That’s what my team-mates are worried about the most. We need to regain muscle tone and function and reduce the risk, which has increased, not just because of the time we’ve been out of the game, but also because of the weird times we’ve been going through and the high temperatures.”
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin is confident “good old football with fans will come back very soon” despite the chaos caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Domestic and continental club competitions were halted across Europe in mid-March due to the COVID-19 crisis and Euro 2020 was postponed.
The Bundesliga made a successful return to action behind closed doors at the weekend and many other leagues are preparing to resume in front of empty stands, with Ceferin sure the situation will soon improve.
Asked whether he would bet a million dollars that Euro 2020 would be played in 2021, the chief of European football’s governing body told the Guardian: “Yes, I would. I don’t know why it wouldn’t be.
“I don’t think that this virus will last forever. I think it will (change) sooner than many think.
“I don’t like this apocalyptic view that we have to wait for the second and third waves or even a fifth wave.”
Ceferin said football would follow the recommendations of the authorities but he was optimistic that normal service could be resumed in the near future.
“I’m absolutely sure, personally, that good old football with fans will come back very soon,” he said.
And Ceferin said he did not expect the game to be profoundly changed by the coronavirus.
“Football didn’t change after the Second World War, or First World War, and it will not change because of a virus either,” he said.
La Liga have told clubs they will be able to increase training to involve groups of up to 10 players on Monday as teams take another step towards the planned resumption of the season next month.
The Spanish government has announced protocol that will allow training sessions to be expanded by all clubs, even those belonging to areas that are further behind in the country’s de-escalation programme.
It means teams like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Aletico Madrid will be able to train in groups of 10, a source at La Liga told AFP, despite both Madrid and Catalonia remaining in ‘phase 0’ as two of Spain’s worst-hit regions by coronavirus.
Espanyol, Leganes, Getafe and Real Valladolid will also be given special permission to do training in larger groups.
The move comes as a boost to La Liga’s hopes of restarting the season in the middle of June and following the lead of Germany’s Bundesliga, which staged games behind closed doors on Saturday.
Teams in the top two divisions in Spain have already returned to their training grounds this month, with players working individually as part of La Liga’s staggered programme, which includes regular testing and strict medical protocol.
La Liga president Javier Tebas has circled June 12 as the ideal date for matches to return but admitted the exact timing will depend on the health authorities in Spain and the trajectory of the virus.
According to an official statement by the government on Saturday, professional sports clubs “may carry out complete training sessions” while “complying with the corresponding prevention and hygiene measures”.
The statement puts the maximum number at 14 for group training but La Liga have informed clubs the limit will be 10 on Monday.
La Liga first suspended fixtures on March 14 and Tebas has estimated that failing to complete the season would cost clubs around 1 billion euros.