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Coronavirus and sport: Meetings due to take place to discuss restart

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Top level football is on hold indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic

The government plans to set up the first of a series of regular meetings involving senior medical directors of the major sports this week in a bid to return to action as soon as possible.

The move was described by a source close to the plans as a “quickening of the pace” and intended to help sport resume “within weeks”, if progress was made.

The Chief Medical Officer’s staff would also be involved in the weekly meetings, and the Prime Minister has been briefed on the plan.

The specifics of each sport would be examined by health experts to see what protocols would be needed to get each up and running as soon as possible, meaning some would return sooner than others.

Testing, social distancing, hygiene standards and strict limits on the numbers of people allowed in venues would all be debated.

It comes just days after Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told MPs that he had been having “productive talks” with governing bodies from across British sport on restarting following the coronavirus shutdown.

However, a return to action still depends on the government’s five tests being met, especially an increase in testing, and meeting social distancing guidelines.

Sport at all levels is on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic which has claimed the lives of more than 19,000 people in the UK.

  • The Premier League, Women’s Super League and English football leagues have suspended the 2019-20 season indefinitely, while the lower-league season in Scotland has ended.
  • Cricket in England and Wales remains suspended until 1 July.
  • The first nine races of the Formula 1 season have been called off with the British Grand Prix scheduled to take place in July.
  • The London Marathon, which had been set to take place this weekend, has been rescheduled for October.
  • Rugby union’s Premiership clubs are working towards a best-case scenario of returning to action on the weekend of 3-5 July.
  • Golf’s Open Championship, which had been set to take place in Kent in July, has been cancelled with the three other men’s majors rescheduled.

The meetings are viewed as preparatory, and intended to avoid a further delay to seasons being resumed once approval is granted, rather than a sign that it was imminent. Indeed, there is an acceptance that the plans being put in place may not end up being implemented for months if progress elsewhere is not made.

Government officials have accepted that at this stage, sport would only be able to take place behind closed doors.

But there is a recognition that it may provide many people with a much-needed boost to morale after months of lockdown.

Officials are known to be nervous however about the prospect of fans congregating in large numbers outside stadia to celebrate if titles for instance are confirmed.

Dowden said this week that the Premier League was considering making some behind-closed-doors fixtures available free-to-air when the season restarts.

But officials are said to be mindful of commercial contracts with broadcasters Sky and BT, and recognise the importance of the revenue they generate to the sport more widely.

The Premier League holds its next meeting on Friday.

‘Suitable testing’ needed before return, says EFL

The English Football League has said it “welcomes the current steps being taken” by the government and that a return to playing could only come about “through a continued collaborative approach”.

The EFL has previously said it hopes to complete the season in 56 days but that it was assumed matches would be played behind closed doors.

In a statement issued on Saturday, the organisation – which oversees the Championship, League One and League Two – added that “suitable testing arrangements” must be in place before football in England can resume.

“The position of the EFL remains unchanged in that the priority is to resume the 2019-20 season as soon as it is possible with matches only returning at an appropriate point and based on guidance from the relevant authorities,” said the statement.

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Martin Whitmarsh hired as Aston Martin Performance Technologies CEO, plus more

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The Aston Martin Formula One team have recruited Martin Whitmarsh as chief executive of the newly established company, Aston Martin Performance Technologies.

Whitmarsh will head up the division that combines Aston Martin’s Formula One activities with developing, applying and taking to market the group’s technical capabilities, as well as intellectual property. The automaker added that the Aston Martin Performance Technologies has the aim of ‘providing best-in-class innovation, engineering, testing and manufacturing services across a variety of key industry sectors’.

Whitmarsh, who will officially take up his new position on 1st October, is perhaps best known for his 25-year stint at McLaren, which saw him hold various senior positions including group chief executive and Formula One team principal. The 63-year-old left the British racing outfit in 2014 after being ousted by Ron Dennis.

Beyond Formula One, Whitmarsh’s time at the Woking-based company saw the launch of the McLaren Automotive and McLaren Applied Technologies divisions.

Since leaving McLaren, Whitmarsh served as chief executive of the Ineos America’s Cup sailing team, as well as chairman of BAR Technologies and the Offshore Wind Growth Partnership.

His appointment comes after Aston Martin began work on a new multimillion pound, 400,000-square-foot facility earlier this month, which is being billed as Formula One’s first-ever ‘smart factory’.

“Martin will enjoy senior leadership responsibility and will assist and support me in setting the new strategic direction for Aston Martin Performance Technologies and its subsidiaries, including the crucial objective of leading the transformation of Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team into a Formula One World Championship-winning organisation within the next four to five years, and evolving it into a UK£1 billion business over a similar time period,” said Lawrence Stroll, executive chairman, Aston Martin Lagonda and Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team.

“Martin has enjoyed a long, successful and high-profile career, spanning the motorsport, automotive, aerospace, marine and renewable-energy sectors.

“Moreover, he is a proven winner in Formula One. He is therefore the ideal person for the job of working with me and our senior management team to lead and inspire our workforce to future success both on and off track.”

Whitmarsh added: “Lawrence [Stroll] intends Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team to win Formula One world championships, plain and simple, and I would not have joined him in that endeavour unless I was utterly convinced that it was an entirely achievable aim.

“I know what it takes to win in Formula One, and, inspired by Lawrence’s leadership and backed by the skill, passion and resolve of the workforce, I intend to do whatever I can to make sure that our team becomes the winning operation that Lawrence is determined that it should be.”

Elsewhere, Spanish soccer’s La Liga has bolstered its management team for its Boost LaLiga digital entertainment transformation project. Javier Gomez has been appointed as corporate director and will work alongside executive director Oscar Mayo to implement corporate and business strategies. Jose Guerra has also moved to the position of director of strategic operations and Boost LaLiga.

Additionally, La Liga’s management has shaken up its hierarchy in order to ‘consolidate and reinforce its structure’. Under the leadership of president Javier Tebas, and together with Gomez and Mayo, the following will make up the executive committee: Maria Jose Lopez, legal director; Miguel Angel Leal, managing director of LaLiga Tech; Jose Carlos Franco, director of technology; and Loreto Quintero, director of strategic projects.

The American Athletic Conference (AAC) has extended the contract of commissioner Mike Aresco until June 2025.

Media platform Antourage has added Andy Sutherden and Ken Yaffe to its advisory board.

Sports data company StatsBomb has announced the hiring of former Milwaukee Bucks director of basketball research Seth Partnow as an advisor as they near a US market launch.

Harry Hardy, DC United’s executive vice president of business operations, is leaving the Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise to become an executive at Major League Rugby (MLR), according to the Washington Post.


Appointments

Steve Elworthy

Chief executive, Surrey County Cricket Club

Previously: Managing director, events and special projects, England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB)

Tamika Tremaglio

Executive director, National Basketball Players Association (NBPA)

Previously: Managing principal, greater Washington area, Deloitte

Adrian Staiti

President, APAC, CAA Sports

Previously: President, global sales and president, APAC, Sportfive

Adam Davis

Managing director, North America, Two Circles

Previously: Chief commercial officer, Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment (HBSE)

James Frewin

Senior vice president, international, Professional Fighters League (PFL)

Previously: Vice president and general manager, Australia and New Zealand, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)

Matt Horton

Vice president, data and analytics, TickPick

Previously: Senior director, data science, Major League Baseball (MLB)

Alex Lovell

Senior vice president of business development, Toldright

Previously: Vice president of connections, iHeartMedia

Mikhail Mazur

Chief technology officer, International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF)

Previously: IT, data and analytics manager, IMMAF


Departures

Dan Edwards

Senior vice president, Jacksonville Tradition and Alumni, Jacksonville Jaguars

Notes: Edwards, who until this season exclusively led the Jaguars’ communications department throughout the existence of the National Football League (NFL) franchise, will retire at the end of the 2021 campaign.

Jonathan Neill

Commercial director, Rugby League World Cup 2021

Notes: Neill will leave at the end of the month after three and a half years in the role.

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Ex-All Blacks and Wallabies coach named Fijian Drua head coach

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Former All Blacks and Wallabies skills coach Mick Byrne has been unveiled as head coach of the Fijian Drua for their inaugural season in Super Rugby Pacific.

Byrne was revealed as the Drua’s new head coach on a Fiji Rugby press conference on Friday, with the 62-year-old signing a two-year deal with the expansion franchise.

The Drua’s acquisition of Byrne is a significant coup given his experience not only as a professional rugby coach, but also as a player in the Victorian Football League, now known as the AFL, between 1977 and 1989.

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All Blacks boss Ian Foster named three Barrett brothers to start in 100th test against Springboks

A rangy ruckman for Melbourne, Hawthorn and the Sydney Swans, Bryne applied his knowledge of kicking as an Australian footballer to a coaching career in rugby union.

Since crossing football codes, Byrne, who won the VFL Premiership with Hawthorn in 1983, has gone on to coach various teams at both international and Super Rugby level.

During his time with the All Blacks, Byrne won two World Cups as skills coach over a decade-long period between 2005 and 2015.

He then cross the ditch to return to his native Australia in 2016, where assumed the same role with the Wallabies until last January after having previously working for the side as a kicking coach in 1998.

Byrne was also an assistant coach for the Blues between 2012 and 2014 and Japan between 2009 and 2011, both times of which he was responsible for the forwards, the breakdown, skills and kicking, and has been part of the Scottish coaching set-up.

More recently, Byrne has held roles as the director of rugby at Austin Gilgronis in Major League Rugby and led the Canadian women’s sevens team to the Tokyo Olympics last month after having worked as a consultant for the team since 2012.

The acquisition of Byrne comes after the Drua announced they had signed the first five players for their 2022 Super Rugby Pacific squad on Monday.

Those players were Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Napolioni Bolaca, one-test hooker Tevita Ikanivere, Bay of Plenty wing Onisi Ratave, experienced loose forward Nemani Nagusa and two-test halfback Simione Kuruvoli.

Bryne will be assisted by Nacanieli Cawanibuka, who was also confirmed as the Drua’s head of athletic performance after having previously worked for Fiji’s national sevens side.

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Rugby League news: St Helens confirm major signing, Man of Steel shortlist, Huddersfield reward forward

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Saints confirm Bell signing

St Helens have announced the signing of Scotland international James Bell from relegated Leigh on a two-year contract.

Auckland-born Bell, 27, was one of the Centurions’ leading performers in their first season back in Super League, playing in 18 of their 23 matches.

Saints coach Kristian Woolf said: “Whenever we have played Leigh, James has made himself noticed through his physicality, the way he wants to get up and out of the line and have an impact on the game.

“He is a player with a great work ethic. He also has an outstanding skill set that will suit how we want to play.

“We found him difficult to defend against, particularly with his short passing game and his ability to play right into the line and play out of the back.

“I also love his versatility. He can play that 13 role, on the edge if needed and he has also jumped in at nine, so he is going to offer us some great depth and competition across a number of starting spots.”

Bell made two appearances in the NRL for New Zealand Warriors in 2017 before spending two years in France with Toulouse and was due to join Toronto until they withdrew from Super League.

He said: “I couldn’t believe it when my manager put the contract in my emails. This has been the opportunity I have been waiting my whole career for.

“Joining the Super League this year, clearly St Helens are the team to beat and I hold them in high regard.

“I can’t wait to rip in, join a winning culture and a great system and I feel it will take my personal game to the next level. I really can’t wait.”

Bell, who has won five caps for Scotland and played in the 2017 World Cup, becomes St Helens’ fourth recruit for 2022 following the signing of NRL trio Joey Lussick, Will Hopoate and Curtis Sironen.



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