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Doping: Coronavirus will not be opportunity for drug cheats says Wada chief

LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND (REUTERS) – World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) chief Witold Banka had a message on Friday for any athlete thinking they could take advantage of the gap in drug-testing created by the coronavirus outbreak – “we will catch you” and “eliminate you”.

Wada acknowledged last week that the coronavirus pandemic had created challenges for drug-testers with countries closing borders, cancelling flights, enforcing mandatory quarantines or isolations and the shutdown of the sporting calendar.

For unscrupulous athletes this represents a huge opportunity.

Out of reach of the anti-doping authorities, perhaps in some cases for months, some athletes may feel emboldened to boost their medal chances with the help of performance-enhancing drugs, with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics postponed for a year.

If they do Banka insisted they will be caught.

“They are not athletes, if you are a cheat we will catch you, for sure we… will …catch you,” the Wada president told Reuters in a phone interview.

“If you want to use this situation to cheat us we will catch you and we will eliminate you from sport.”

OTHER WEAPONS

The coronavirus means, however, that testing is certainly in slumber and Wada conceded that it has been reduced in certain parts of the world although no figures are available.

In the absence of testing, Wada will have to rely on other weapons in its anti-doping arsenal including the athlete biological passport, long-term analysis and investigations.

“The world stops, this is a new and challenging situation for all of us but we have a lot of tools we are using and I hope we will return to full power very quickly,” said Banka.

“Anti-doping never sleeps, that is the message I would like to give to my fellow athletes. Testing is not the one weapon we have which we can use against cheats.

“It is important to know athletes remain subject to testing and they must provide whereabouts information.

“To the athletes and my colleagues we will do everything to maintain the integrity of the system and hope we return full power very quickly.”

Knowing where athletes are is one thing, getting to them during an epidemic is another, with entire cities and regions quarantined or locked down.

But the International Olympic Committee’s decision to delay the 2020 Games for a year has also bought Wada some time to plan and ramp up testing when it is safe to do so.

HUGE PROBLEM

“This is a difficult situation, a huge problem, but we are doing our best to monitor the situation,” said Banka.

“The decision to postpone the Olympic Games was a helpful decision. I need to say it was a victory for commonsense and I think everyone agrees it was the right call.

“For ourt anti-doping program it was good.” While testing is down, Wada has made no cuts and is not planning any layoffs, said Banka adding; “Our financial situation, taking into account current situations, is very stable”.

Banka, who helped Poland win a bronze medal in the 4×400 metres relay at the 2007 world championships, said Wada will use every resource available to ensure a level playing field in Tokyo.

“I am coming from an athletic environment and I will do everything to convince the athletes I am working with them and I am listening and I will do everything to create a fair environment for them.” he said.

“I will use a lot of tools to do this. We will use all the weapons which we have.”

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Tough move but right call to end Netball Super League season early

Another sport in Singapore was hit by the coronavirus crisis on Friday, with the M1 Netball Super League truncating its season.

This means that its play-offs – semi-finals, preliminary final and grand final – will now not be held. Instead, the title has been awarded to the team most consistent after the completion of two stages of round-robin games – Sneakers Stingrays.

The decision is unprecedented and not everyone will be happy with it. Some teams will be aggrieved that they were not given the opportunity to challenge the Stringrays in the play-offs for a shot at the title or improve their position in the table. They believe that Netball Singapore jumped the gun.

But stopping the competition, or indeed all competitive sport, right now is correct, for in these grim times, it is clear that acting early and decisively is better than reacting too late. Just look at what is happening in other parts of the world, as governments that did not take the threat of Covid-19 seriously early on are now scrambling to curb its transmission and struggling to save lives.

The leaders at NS did not come to this decision lightly. Netball enjoys a leading profile in the fraternity and besides disappointing its players (some of whom will point out that there are only two more weekends to go), it also needs to balance the needs of its many stakeholders, particularly its sponsors.

Netball could not afford to wait for one month, or two, to restart the competition because there is no guarantee when the danger will dissipate. The world is working to the virus’ unknown timeline. Even the Olympics, despite the massive losses it will incur, had to abandon its “wait and see” approach and postponed the Games for an entire year.

For the disease to be stopped in its tracks, people need to be grounded. And sportsmen and women are one of the hardest groups of people to keep still. It is in their very nature to keep moving. As the Olympic motto goes: Faster, Higher, Stronger.

Add the fact that the majority of them are young, very fit and healthier than the rest of the population and you understand why some believe they are invincible to an enemy that cannot be seen.

Our athletes are always urged used to do their best for the nation. And now Team Singapore is asking them to stand still.

It could be their greatest challenge yet.

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NFL MVP Lamar Jackson sues Amazon over unlicensed merchandise

Sports betting still happening despite coronavirus canceling all events

The sports betting industry takes a hit as all major sports leagues are on hiatus during coronavirus. FOX Business’ Jeff Flock with more.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson filed a federal lawsuit against Amazon on Wednesday, accusing the e-commerce giant of profiting from the sale of unlicensed merchandise on its platform.

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In the complaint, Jackson, 23, notes that Amazon’s third-party marketplace featured items bearing his likeness and related catchphrases, such as “Action Jackson” and “Not bad for a running back.” The NFL star asked the federal court in Florida to compel Amazon to pull the items offline and pay him compensatory damages.

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“Amazon is deliberately attempting to confuse and deceive the public that the infringing items are affiliated or endorsed by Lamar Jackson as a part of his brand to commercially exploit Lamar’s celebrity and notoriety for significant profit," Jackson’s law firm, Ritter Chusid LLP, said in a statement obtained by the Baltimore Sun.

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Jackson operates his own line of merchandise, dubbed Era 8 Apparel. The complaint claims that Amazon’s actions damaged the brand.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

Jackson became just the second player in NFL history to be unanimously named Most Valuable Player following a dominant 2019 season. The Ravens quarterback threw 36 touchdown passes against just six interceptions and rushed for an additional seven touchdowns.

Jackson is entering the third year of his four-year, $9.45 million contract with the Ravens.

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Coronavirus won't delay NFL Draft, Roger Goodell says

Sports betting still happening despite coronavirus canceling all events

The sports betting industry takes a hit as all major sports leagues are on hiatus during coronavirus. FOX Business’ Jeff Flock with more.

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The 2020 NFL Draft will proceed as scheduled from April 23 to April 25 despite the coronavirus outbreak, Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a memo to the league’s 32 teams Thursday night.

Goodell said the NFL’s Management Council Executive Committee was "unanimous and unequivocal that the draft should go forward as scheduled.” The NFL has already canceled its planned draft festivities in Las Vegas and will proceed with an altered format to protect participants from risks related to the outbreak.

NFL MVP LAMAR JACKSON SUES AMAZON OVER UNLICENSED MERCHANDISE

“Everyone recognizes that public health conditions are highly uncertain and there is no assurance that we can select a different date and be confident that conditions will be significantly more favorable than they are today,” Goodell wrote. “I also believe that the Draft can serve a very positive purpose for our clubs, our fans, and the country at large, and many of you have agreed.”

The 2020 NFL Draft will be televised, but rookies and fans will not be allowed to attend the event in person. Goodell said teams should be prepared to conduct the draft and associated operations outside their facilities, with all necessary technology and essential personnel in place.

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Goodell said the draft would be “conducted and televised in a way that reflects current conditions” but did not provide further details.

Earlier this week, the NFL informed all 32 franchises that their team facilities would be closed until further notice. The league has also barred teams from engaging in draft-related activities, including travel, prospect workouts and physicals.

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The NFL Draft is broken down into three segments. The first round will take place on Thursday, April 23. Rounds two and three will be held on Friday, April 24 and rounds four through seven will be held on Saturday, April 25.

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#GameOfTwoHalves Podcast: Tokyo Olympics postponed till 2021, local sports virtually grounded

#GameOfTwoHalves Ep 77: Tokyo Olympics postponed till 2021, local sports virtually grounded

10:50 min

Synopsis: #GameOfTwoHalves is The Straits Times’ weekly sports podcast that is out every Tuesday.

In this special edition, The Straits Times’ sports editor Lee Yulin hosts sports correspondent Sazali Abdul Aziz and sports journalist Nicole Chia.

They discuss the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics as well as the impact of the Ministry of Health’s stringent new measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in local sport.

Produced by: ST Sports desk

Edited by: Adam Azlee

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Thank you for your support! ST & BT Podcasts picked up a silver medal for Best Digital Project to engage younger and/or millennial audiences at 2019 Asian Digital Media Awards by Wan-Ifra: https://str.sg/Jw5T

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Age concern: Six stars for whom Olympics in 2021 may come too late

PARIS (AFP) – With the 2020 Olympics postponed until 2021, there are fears the delay will shatter the gold medal hopes of many ageing athletes.

AFP Sport looks at six evergreen stars for whom a delayed Tokyo Games might be a step too far.

Roger Federer

The 20-time Grand Slam champion, who will be 40 in August 2021, won Olympic gold when he partnered Stan Wawrinka to the men’s doubles title at the 2008 Beijing Games. Federer was a quarter-finalist in singles in China, silver medallist in 2012 in London before injury forced him skip the 2016 Games in Rio.

In Sydney, in 2000, Federer made the semi-finals in singles but he still remembers Australia fondly as it was the place where he first started his romance with Mirka Vavrinec, who is now his wife.

“Overall it was probably the most unbelievable Olympics I ever had,” said Federer, who was also Switzerland’s flag-bearer in Beijing and in Athens in 2004 where he exited in the second round.

Serena Williams

The American great will be 40 in September next year although her desire to play in Tokyo might not be as pressing as that of Federer.

Williams already has four Olympic gold medals – singles at London in 2012 and women’s doubles with sister Venus in 2000, 2008 in Beijing and London four years later.

The sisters lost their opening round match in Rio in 2016 while Serena’s gold medal defence in the singles was ended by Elina Svitolina in the third round.

Tiger Woods

Woods, who will be 46 in December next year, would have struggled to make the US team for the Games if they had remained in their 2020 slot. He is currently only the sixth-ranked American with just the top four guaranteed to make the squad.

Woods, the winner of 15 majors, has been fighting a recurrence of a back injury so at least the delay to 2021 for the Olympics gives him renewed hope of a golden swansong.

Organisers would be desperate for Woods to play after he missed the return of golf at the 2016 Games in Rio due to injury.

Lin Dan

The colourful and controversial Chinese badminton superstar will be 37 by the time the next Games roll around.

Lin already has gold from Beijing in 2008 and London four years later, adding to his five world titles.

However, there is a hint of unfinished business for Lin who was defeated in the bronze medal match in Rio in 2016 having been downed in the semi-finals by great rival Lee Chong Wei, the man he had beaten in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic finals.

Allyson Felix

The only female track and field athlete in history to win six Olympic gold medals, Felix had spent the last two years preparing for a golden farewell at the Tokyo Olympics.

Felix, who turns 35 at the end of this year, will be racing against Father Time as she attempts to improve her medal tally in what will be her fifth consecutive Olympics appearance.

The American star can take comfort from the fact she is by no means the oldest woman to chase Olympic glory in sprint events. Merlene Ottey was 40 when she anchored Jamaica’s 4x100m relay team to a bronze medal in 2000.

Justin Gatlin

Gatlin had planned to retire in 2020 after competing in his fourth Olympics at the age of 38. However the controversial American star now plans to extend his career in order to compete in the rescheduled Tokyo Games.

“I think a lot of people think that time is against me or against older athletes in this situation, and it’s far from the truth,” said Gatlin, who has twice served suspensions for drug offences during his career.

Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic champion, though could face a battle to even qualify given the depth of the US men’s sprinting squad, with Christian Coleman and Noah Lyles the favourites in the 100m and 200m.

But there will be plenty of time for this pair: Syrian table tennis player Hend Zaza was set to become the youngest athlete at the Tokyo Olympics – at just 11 years old.

She would not have been alone in Japan as professional skateboarder Sky Brown – only five months older – was hoping to compete for Great Britain.

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Olympics: Delay means $17 billion Tokyo Games just got more expensive

(BLOOMBERG) – The decision to delay the Tokyo 2020 Olympics until next year means taxpayers and sponsors likely will have to fork over billions of dollars more just as the global economy caves in during the coronavirus pandemic.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and International Olympic Committee Chairman Thomas Bach agreed on an unprecedented postponement of the event for about a year as the world grapples with the coronavirus infection.

It is the first time the games have been delayed since they began in the 19th century.

Now Abe’s administration, along with organisers and the Tokyo local government, have to start figuring out the costs associated with that decision – and who’s going to pay them.

“When you have to change your plans in projects like this, it’s like turning a supertanker around, and it’s really expensive,” said Bent Flyvbjerg, a professor at the University of Oxford’s Said Business School who wrote a study of Olympic cost overruns.

“The only thing you can do at this stage is keep paying the bills.”

Japan’s organising committee said in December the event would cost 1.35 trillion yen (S$17 billion), the bulk of which would be covered by themselves and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

The Nikkei newspaper, citing the group, said Wednesday the delay would trigger about 300 billion yen in additional costs.

A professor at Kansai University, Katsuhiro Miyamoto, recently published an estimate of 422 billion yen in extra costs for a one-year postponement, with another 218 billion-yen hit to the economy on top of that, excluding any effects from the pandemic.

Japan’s organising committee will be seeking more cash from sponsors and the government, with individual sports associations likely to face financial difficulties, the body’s president, Yasuhiro Yamashita, said Wednesday.

The amount of funding needed is not known yet, he said.

Much of the extra costs likely will accrue from having to retain staff, who otherwise would have been let go once the games ended, Flyvbjerg said. Mitigating these outlays by putting workers on other projects likely will be hard, given the current global economic stagnation.

“The world is not the same as it used to be, so who needs more people right now?” Flyvbjerg said.

Olympic Facilities Maintaining venues that suddenly will be empty during the July-September schedule for the Olympics and Paralympics also will be a burden. Miyamoto estimated that extra care for the 45 venues will cost about 22 billion yen.

Some Olympic facilities already are booked for other events next summer, potentially forcing organizers to pay for alternatives. And sports federations may need to hold extra competitions to select representatives for the 2021 games.

Not least of the concerns is the fate of the athletes’ village, where many apartments already were sold to people expecting to occupy them in 2023.

The Covid-19 outbreak also introduces a huge element of doubt in planning for next year. Abe bills the event as one to mark humanity’s victory over the virus, yet no one knows whether the pandemic will be under control by then.

With Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike calling on the capital’s residents to stay at home this weekend in a bid to slow infections, further delays cannot be ruled out, nor can the eventual abandonment of the effort.

Flyvbjerg’s research shows that Olympic costs always outstrip estimates, with the most extreme example being Montreal in 1976, which had a 760 per cent overrun.

“If it happened, God forbid, that the games got cancelled altogether, it would be a huge waste of money,” he said.

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Rugby: RFU faces losses of up to $86 million in next 18 months due to coronavirus

LONDON (REUTERS) – The Rugby Football Union (RFU) faces losses of up to £50 million (S$86 million) over the next year and a half due to the coronavirus, chief executive Bill Sweeney said on Wednesday (March 25).

The body will, however provide a 7 million-pound ($8.3 million) relief package to community clubs in England, he added in a statement after a virtual board meeting with members participating remotely.

The RFU and Wales’ governing body WRU confirmed last week the end of the 2019-20 season for all league, cup and county rugby, with the exception of the English Premiership, due to the pandemic.

England’s top-flight competition is suspended until at least April 24, with nine rounds and the playoffs still to be played.

Sweeney said the closure of Twickenham stadium, the RFU’s biggest asset and also a major cost, had a significant impact on revenues.

“Based on our planning assumption we estimate RFU revenue losses over the next 18 months to be approximately £45-£50 million and have a firm plan in place to mitigate this,” he said.

“The RFU Executive Team will be taking a cut in remuneration in excess of 25 per cent. In addition, combined Board fees will be reduced by 75 per cent.”

The BBC reported that while the pay cuts do not apply to England head coach Eddie Jones, believed to be the RFU’s highest-paid individual, it understood measures were being looked into which could involve him and his coaching staff being paid less.

Sweeney said the RFU had budgeted for a loss-making year within a four-year cycle due to the costs of the 2019 World Cup campaign and hosting only two home Six Nations games.

Four Six Nations matches were postponed due to the coronavirus.

“No one can predict every possible outcome of the Covid-19 outbreak particularly with regard to the duration of this crisis and we are managing in the unknown,” Sweeney said.

“We have modelled three potential scenarios and are working on an assumption based on a medium-term impact with a view to a return to rugby in the autumn.”

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Coronavirus: European Athletics urges study into 'potential postponement' of Euro championships

LAUSANNE (AFP) – Europe’s athletics governing body asked on Wednesday (March 25) whether this year’s European Championships in Paris can be held while the deadly coronavirus pandemic continues to spread.

In a statement, European Athletics said its executive board had asked the local organising committee (LOC) for the event, set to take place between Aug 25-30, to perform “a study of possible alternative scenarios for hosting… including potential postponement”.

The body added the LOC has reported their preparations have been “severely compromised” by a nationwide shutdown in France as governments across the world try to slowdown a virus that has killed over 20,000 people and left more than three billion in lockdown.

“It is clear we are currently living in unprecedented times that require us to be flexible, open-minded and realistic,” said European Athletics’ interim president Dobromir Karamarinov.

European Athletics also announced its under-18 championships, originally scheduled for July in Italy, will not take place this year.

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Olympics: Cancel them! For Games opponents in Japan, a delay still isn't good enough

TOKYO (AFP) – For many in Japan, the postponement of the Olympics to 2021 is a heartbreaking necessity. But for a small and motley crew opposed to the Games altogether, it still does not go far enough.

“Damn it! We absolutely reject postponement. The Olympics should be cancelled and abolished,” an umbrella group of anti-Games activists tweeted after the historic delay to the 2020 Olympics was announced.

Just minutes before Tuesday’s (March 24) dramatic decision, triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, a handful of activists gathered in central Tokyo holding one of their regular protests against the Games.

“We’ve been doing a monthly rally for various reasons. One of the things that most annoys me is the commercialism of the event,” said 59-year-old Toshio Miyazaki, standing with protesters holding signs reading: “We are opposed to the Tokyo Olympics.”

While works for the Tokyo city government, a key partner in organising the Games, but he is vocal about his opposition to the event.

“The coronavirus situation is pushing them to postpone the Games, but I think Japanese people should think twice about whether it is really necessary to host the Olympics,” he told AFP.

The prospect of hosting the Olympics remains largely popular in Japan, with 4.5 million tickets already sold through an oversubscribed lottery system that was so popular it was expanded for an additional round.

In domestic surveys, only around 10 per cent of respondents think the Games should be cancelled, even with the global coronavirus pandemic stalking the globe.

And those who oppose the Games do so for a variety of reasons.

‘Recovery Olympics’

Kumiko Sudo, who was among the protesters out on Tuesday, said she was uncomfortable with the nationalist undertones she feels are associated with the Games.

“Hosting the Olympics was proposed to boost a sense of nationalism” by then Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishikawa, she told AFP.

She was also angered by moves Tokyo made in the run-up to the Games, including clearing out makeshift camps occupied by homeless people.

Japan has billed the 2020 Games as the “Recovery Olympics”, planning to showcase reconstruction in the north-eastern parts of the country that were devastated by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster.

But some in the battered region oppose the Games, saying the money spent would have been better directed to people forced to evacuate after the disaster.

“Tokyo landed the right to host the Games by calling it a ‘Reconstruction Olympics’… but that’s a phoney discourse,” argued Hiroki Ogasawara, a professor of sociology at Kobe University and co-author of a book on opposition to the Tokyo Games.

“Holding the Olympics will not by itself rebuild the disaster-hit area, it’s an attempt to pretend that these communities have been reconstructed with the holding of the Olympic Games,” he told AFP.

The disaster-hit Tohuku region was set to feature prominently in the Olympic torch relay, which was scheduled to begin on Thursday but has now been postponed along with the Games.

Under the slogan “Hope Lights Our Way”, the torch was supposed to set out from a Fukushima sports complex that became a staging ground for the response to the nuclear disaster.

The nationwide relay route included stops in towns that have only recently seen partial liftings of evacuation orders.

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