Gaza horse riders compete again as coronavirus curbs eased

GAZA (Reuters) – Wearing riding pants, logo-decorated shirts and helmets, Gaza horse-riders resumed local show-jumping competitions on Thursday as coronavirus restrictions were eased. The Palestinian Equestrian Federation halted horse-riding classes and local contests in late February as a precaution against the spread of the pandemic – a blow to one of the few sports activities in the congested and impoverished enclave. Horse riding became popular in Gaza over the past three years. The number of riders – including girls – has grown to 200, according to the federation. Around half of those were taking part on the two-day contest that began on Thursday. Sami Zeyara, the federation’s assistant secretary-general, said the hiatus would force them to extend the season into early 2021. “I am very happy to be back to competitions. Together with my horse, Diesel, we hope to come first,” said 12-year-old Hala al-Batrawi. Contestants were divided in six categories. The most junior group included children under the age of 10, known to many as the “Smurfs.” “I have worked hard to get back into shape, and I want to prove myself in this competition,” said Mohammad al-Sadi, 16, standing next to his horse Plutonium. Sitting around tables separated by flower boxes in deference to social-distancing, spectators cheered when riders crossed the finishing line and applauded those who faltered or fell. Gaza, which has been run by the Islamist Hamas group since 2017, has reported 72 coronavirus cases and one death. Local soccer games will resume on Friday, with no spectators, according to the Palestinian Football Federation.

My focus is Watford’s Premier League survival, says Pearson

(Reuters) – Watford manager Nigel Pearson says he has fond memories of managing Saturday’s opponents Leicester City but has no time to dwell on nostalgia as he prepares to lead his new team’s Premier League survival bid. Pearson had two stints at Leicester, leading them to Premier League promotion in 2014 as second-tier champions before he was sacked after a season in the top flight. The club went on to win their maiden Premier League title the following season. Leicester are third in the standings under Brendan Rodgers while Watford, who climbed out of the relegation zone after Pearson took charge in December, sit 17th ahead of their first game since the season restarted. “Leicester have had a very good season so far, they’re a stable football club with a manager with a lot of ambition and ability,” Pearson told reporters. “They have talented individuals and are a very effective team as well. Where they are in the league speaks volumes. (But) at the moment my absolute focus is on trying to retain our (Premier League) status. “I spent two spells as manager at Leicester and had success in both periods and enjoyed my time there. I’ve got a lot of respect for that club… and I know my place in the story.” Pearson said striker Troy Deeney would be available for the match even though he refused to train last month over fears of contracting the coronavirus. “He’s a dad and husband and it’s his job to put his family first,” Pearson said. Pearson confirmed Isaac Success will not be available after rupturing his Achilles in training while Gerard Deulofeu and Daryl Janmaat are out for the rest of the season with long-term injuries.

Norwich boss Farke rues injury woes ahead of Saints clash

(Reuters) – Norwich City will be without captain Grant Hanley and defenders Sam Byram and Christoph Zimmermann when they resume their Premier League campaign against Southampton, with the trio ruled out for the rest of the season through injury, manager Daniel Farke said on Thursday. Midfielder Marco Stiepermann, who tested positive for COVID-19 last week but has since returned two negative tests, will also miss the clash against Southampton on Friday. Hanley, 28, missed almost four months of action at the start of the season due to groin and hernia surgeries, while Byram and Zimmermann have not featured since Norwich’s 1-0 defeat by Liverpool in February. “I have to confirm it’s the end of the season for Byram. We hoped he’d be back in June but he has had a setback in his rehab. Hanley is also out for the season as he requires surgery on a hamstring injury,” Farke told reporters. “Stiepermann has been allowed to rejoin training. He will not be involved tomorrow, but we hope he can be a topic in the next game.” Norwich are bottom of the standings with 21 points, six away from the safety zone with nine games remaining but Farke, 43, believes his side are capable of springing a few surprises and securing their survival. “We are the underdogs, without a doubt but we are convinced that we still have a chance. It is all in our hands. It’s crunch-time and we have to show a winning mentality,” the German added.

UEFA relaxes break-even rule, watches for ‘potential abuses’

BERN (Reuters) – European soccer body UEFA has temporarily relaxed its break- even rule known as Financial Fair Play, saying it wants to make sure that clubs are not penalised for unforeseen losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic this season. The European soccer body said in a statement that clubs’ accounts for the 2020 and 2021 financial years would be assessed together rather than separately, to give clubs time to recuperate from losses suffered during the last three months. Under FFP, clubs are barred from spending more than the revenue they generate themselves and face fines and possible expulsion from European competition if they break the rules, which were designed to stop rich club owners from buying success. Thursday’s announcement is unlikely to mean that clubs can forget about FFP, go on a summer spending spree and hope to recoup the investment before their accounts are assessed again. The monitoring period for club accounts has only been extended, not postponed, and, in any case, it can take several years after the initial investment for financial rewards for sporting success to materialise. UEFA pointed out that relaxation of FFP was intended to address “revenue shortfall due to COVID-19 and not financial mismanagement” and that its measures would “at the same time protect the system from potential abuses.” UEFA said it would also take into account losses in income from gate receipts, sponsorship and advertising, broadcasting rights, commercial activities and European competition prize money when making the break-even calculation. UEFA also called on its member associations to harmonise the end of their summer transfer windows, with Oct. 5 as the deadline date. It said the deadline for registering players for next season’s Champions League and Europa League, which have been delayed as a knock-on effect of this season’s interruption, would be Oct. 6.

City’s Garcia discharged from hospital after Ederson collision

(Reuters) – Manchester City defender Eric Garcia has been released from hospital after he was injured in a collision with goalkeeper Ederson in their 3-0 win against Arsenal, the Premier League club said on Thursday. Garcia, 19, collided with the Brazilian goalkeeper late in Wednesday’s game and received treatment for several minutes before being carried off on a stretcher and taken to the Manchester Royal Infirmary Hospital for further tests. “Garcia has been released from hospital… He will be monitored in the coming days, ahead of a return to training and competitive action,” City said in a statement. “Everyone at the club wishes him a speedy recovery.” Ederson, 26, on Thursday posted a picture of himself and Spain’s Garcia on Twitter captioned “well and back”. Goals from Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden guided City to a comfortable win on their league return, cutting the gap to league-leaders Liverpool to 22 points.

Haas F1 to rein in spending until budget situation clears

LONDON (Reuters) – Haas are not planning upgrades to their 2020 Formula One car until the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic are clear and they know what they can spend, team principal Guenther Steiner said on Thursday. Speaking to reporters, Steiner pointed to uncertainty over the number of races as the main factor affecting his budget since that determines the share of revenues and sponsor payments. Formula One had scheduled a record 22 races for this year but that has since been whittled down to 15-18, with only eight grands prix in Europe confirmed so far on a provisional calendar. “We are not planning any upgrades until we know exactly what we are doing this year budget-wise and race-wise,” said Steiner, whose drivers are Denmark’s Kevin Magnussen and Frenchman Romain Grosjean. “I cannot spend money which I don’t know if I’ve got. In the moment we have to be very cautious with what we are doing, because obviously you all know the income is going down, with having fewer races and races without spectators. “Until it’s very clear, I’m very cautious and just make sure that we participate, that we do our job as best we can, that we are making no mistakes in the races or in the sessions and just focus on that.” Steiner, whose U.S.-owned team have one of the smaller budgets in Formula One, said Haas could not risk committing money to upgrades and then be unable to pay for them and risk missing races. Asked about the risk of making the call to develop the car too late, he added: “This is part of the risk we have got. It’s fine, we need to live with that. “This is an exceptional year, hopefully, for all of us so this is what we live with.” Formula One has already agreed that teams will keep this year’s cars in 2021 as a cost-saving measure, with new rules postponed to 2022. The races will come in a rush — eight in 10 weekends — once the season opens in Austria on July 5 but Steiner said spares were not a concern because planning had been for an average year.

Alli unlucky to be suspended, says Mourinho

LONDON (Reuters) – Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Dele Alli is unlucky to be suspended for Friday’s Premier League clash with Manchester United, according to his manager Jose Mourinho. England international Alli was suspended for one match and fined after a social media prank making light of the coronavirus pandemic in early February. Speaking at a virtual news conference on Thursday ahead of Tottenham’s first game back after a three-month shutdown of the season, Mourinho said other players had got away with worse behaviour. “I can only tell you I feel very sorry that Dele is not playing. Again, I feel very, very sorry that he’s not playing. He’s a player that works so, so hard during all this period and he’s really frustrated that he cannot play the first match,” Mourinho said. “I don’t want to say much more than I don’t think he deserves a one-match ban compared with wrong behaviours at much bigger dimensions that happened during this period without any consequences.” Mourinho did not name names, but several Premier League players flouted government lockdown rules. Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish, who played against Sheffield United on Wednesday, was involved in a road traffic accident after breaking lockdown to visit a friend, while Manchester City’s Kyle Walker apologised after a tabloid newspaper reported he had invited two women to a party at his house.

Villa captain Grealish charged after lockdown crash

(Reuters) – Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish has been charged with multiple driving violations after being involved in a car crash during the COVID-19 lockdown in March, police said on Thursday. British media had reported that police had opened an investigation after the Villa midfielder was pictured leaving an estate in Birmingham following a traffic accident on March 29. “A Premier League footballer has been charged with driving without due care and attention, and failing to stop at or report a collision,” West Midlands Police said in a statement here “Jack Grealish is accused of the offences in Waterside, Dickens Heath, Solihull, on Sunday, Mar. 29. An investigation was launched after we responded to reports of a car hitting parked vehicles and the driver fleeing on foot.” The 24-year-old is due to appear before the Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on Aug. 25 to answer the charges.

Dyche fears Burnley could be depleted due to contract expirations

BURNLEY, England (Reuters) – Burnley manager Sean Dyche fears he could lose four members of his first-team squad within the next two weeks due to their contracts not being renewed by the club. Ireland international Jeff Hendrick, former England winger Aaron Lennon, right back Phil Bardsley and ex-Manchester City and England keeper Joe Hart all have their contracts due to terminate on June 30. No new deals have been agreed to keep the players for the duration of the season, which restarted on Wednesday after a three-month stoppage due to the coronavirus crisis and is not due to conclude until July 26. Asked whether there was a real risk of losing the players and playing with a reduced squad for the remainder of the season, Dyche, whose side are in 10th place, told reporters he was not in position to agree extensions. “I haven’t got a situation where I can (agree) long-term agreements or even short-term, I am waiting for the chairman to act on what I have advised many months ago and hopefully get some players tied down,” Dyche said. “If that doesn’t occur then fair to say we will be down to a very low squad number.” Hart has been used mainly as back-up to first-choice keeper Nick Pope this season but Bardsley and Hendrick have been frequent starters with Lennon regularly involved from the bench. “As we have done in the past here we have let contracts run a long way down unfortunately. It is the price you pay if you do that and situations occur. No-one saw this situation (COVID) coming, that is quite obvious. “We have got to be hopeful that the players see that they can do their extra month because at the moment that is all the chairman has allowed,” he added. Dyche says he is hoping players will agree extensions until the end of the season. “I have just got to work within that and hope for a bit of goodwill from them and if they don’t, then I understand it because it is strange times and they have to look after their own futures,” he said. “It is in the balance at the moment and we will find out more over the coming days.” Burnley restart their campaign at Manchester City on Monday and will be without injured trio Ashley Barnes, Chris Wood and Johann Berg Gudmundsson.

Djokovic says important all players free to travel to U.S. Open

(Reuters) – World number one Novak Djokovic says he is excited by the prospect of playing at the U.S. Open but says it would only be fair if every player eligible is able to compete. The Unites States Tennis Association (USTA) announced this week that the U.S. Open would go ahead at the end of August without fans and with strict health protocols in place. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic still peaking in some regions of the world, Djokovic is concerned that many players will not be able to travel even if they wanted to. “Hopefully every single player who is participating, chosen by ranking and who deserves their place at the U.S. Open, will have an equal opportunity to travel there and compete as everybody else,” Djokovic told Eurosport’s Tennis Legends podcast. “This is very important because this is the foundation of the ATP and the foundation of international tennis.” Several leading players have voiced their concerns about the U.S. Open taking place, especially as the U.S. has the most deaths from COVID-19 in the world. Defending champion Rafael Nadal said he would be unlikely to travel there in the current circumstances while women’s world number two Simona Halep has also indicated she will not go. Earlier this month Djokovic said competing in New York would be impossible because of the “extreme” COVID-19 protocols in place for the tournament at Flushing Meadows. However, the Serb says he is very glad it is going ahead and that the ATP Tour would resume in August after being suspended since March because of the pandemic. “I’m extremely happy and excited to see that all the tournaments, especially Grand Slams, are organising their events,” the 33-year-old 17-time Grand Slam champion said. “I think that a lot of people were sceptical, especially for the U.S. events considering what the U.S. went through as a country during this pandemic. So a lot of people, including myself, were quite sceptical on whether it would happen or not. “Let’s hope that in the next two months some of those restrictions will loosen up a bit and that we will have a great, great tournament.”