An advertisement painted on the field near the center square would usually have summed up the hype of the Aussie rules season-opening game between Richmond and Carlton: Footy, Oh What a Feeling.
Last September, a crowd of 100,014 packed into the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch Richmond trounce Greater Western Sydney to claim the Australian Football League's premiership flag.
There were no fans there on Thursday when the Tigers opened with a 16.9 (105) to 12.9 (81) win over Carlton.
What an eerie feeling.
The AFL, the National Rugby League and soccer's A-League competitions are all going ahead in Australia despite heavy travel restrictions and bans on crowds of more than 500 assembling at outdoor venues amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The 2020 NRL season kicked off last weekend with fans in the stadiums. The start of the second round was an entirely different story — there wasn't a paying spectator at Sydney Olympic Park on Thursday. A sign on the big screen behind the North Queensland Cowboys in the first half read: It's On, Sydney.com.
But it was only on, it seems, for a broadcast audience. For the record, the Cowboys won 24-16 against the Canterbury Bulldogs. One of the game's leading players, former Australia captain Cam Smith, questioned the wisdom of playing the games, given how easily the virus has been spreading. He got some support from fans, and criticism from others. To play, or not to play? The question has divided fans, players and administrators.
Supporters of both the AFL and the NRL complained on social media about the lack of atmosphere and noise at the games, which was obvious on the broadcasts.
Some said the leagues would be better off postponed entirely. TV commentators joked about the lack of people to throw the ball back to players when it was kicked out of bounds, talked about the lack of ambiance and described it as almost like watching a practice session.
At the MCG less than two weeks ago, more than 86,000 people gathered to watch Australia beat India in the women's Twenty20 Cricket World Cup final. Sports are, evidently, a major part of life in Melbourne, where Aussie rules was invented. And Melburnians like to say that the AFL is in their veins.
More than 90,000 attended the AFL's season-opening game in 2018, and more than 85,000 were there at last season's opener. But after the season-opening Formula One race in Melbourne was canceled last weekend, there was never any doubt the various football authorities would have to plan for games in empty stadiums, if their seasons went ahead at all.
This time, it was only match officials, team officials and staff, players and members of the media at the MCG.
"It's so weird," ABC radio sideline analyst Tim Hodges said. "Not a soul here.
"The concourse is bare, the turnstiles are locked, the gates are shut," he said. "The restaurants, the food shops, the cafes are closed, the bars are locked … these are normally heaving on this night. It is like a ghost town."
The AFL's hierarchy left it until Wednesday to confirm the games would go on, after floating the idea of postponing it and having a shortened regular season.
When the Richmond players ran onto the field, the club song boomed over the stadium speakers. There were fan club signs draped over seats where fans should have been sitting.
Captains Trent Cotchin and Sam Docherty met at the center circle for the coin toss, and shook hands — a long tradition in the game, but a no-no in the new coronavirus era of "social distancing."
There was no separating the teams once the whistle blew, anyway, with almost constant contact between players for two hours in Melbourne.
After the win, the Richmond players formed a huddle, arms over shoulders, and sang their club song in the locker room.
In the rugby league game in Sydney, there were almost 700 tackles completed — most of them involving shoulders crashing hard into players running at speed.
The ABC reported there were only 241 people — including the 34 players participating in the game — allowed inside the venue. The interchange bench chairs for both teams were separated by at least a meter (3 feet) and the match balls were washed regularly.
"It was very different. Certainly different times at the moment," Cowboys coach Paul Green said of the lack of a crowd. "I was really worried about (the players) being flat. We've never had a prep like this before."
The NRL plans to keep teams together, in isolation from the public so that there's less risk of players being infected by the virus.
"It'll become routine for us," Green said.
Canterbury coach Dean Pay said it was a challenge to adapt to fan-free stadiums and isolation of teams, but it was better than suspending the competition.
"At the end of the day, we still want to keep playing," Pay said. "It's not ideal, but that's what it is at the moment."
Long distance runner Mohammad Shamsuzzaman Arafat, the first Resident Bangladeshi Ironman triathlon finisher, was named as the brand ambassador of the country’s first and only direct-to-home (DTH) service provider Akash DTH for one year.
Athlete Mohammad Shamsuzzaman Arafat, who emerged as the first resident Bangladeshi Ironman triathlon winner in 2017 in Malaysia, signed an agreement to participate in different social and promotional activities of Akash DTH at a function at the Beximco Communications Head Quarter in Gulshan on Thursday.
Addressing the function, Head of Marketing and Strategic Sales of Akash DTH, Muhammad Abul Khair Chowdhury said “Arafat incorporates the motto of a limitless journey in his lifestyle, and he believes, everything is achievable through passion and consistency.”
“His thrive for knowledge and dedication for sports helped him to find a new goal as an endurance athlete who is the first man to run from Teknaf to Tetulia in 2017 in 20 days.”, he said.
Mohammad Shamsuzzaman Arafat, an Assistant Director of Bangladesh Bank and ex-student of Dhaka University, is the first resident Bangladeshi to finish Ironman triathlon in 2017 in Malaysia and some marathons and ultra-marathon races in Bangladesh and India.
He finished Ironman Malaysia in 2017 and 2019 and also finished Ironman European Championship-2019 Frankfurt in Germany.
He recently raced in Thailand in Ironman 70.3 Bangsaen. Being three times Ironman finisher, he achieved an 'All world athlete- Silver' from Ironman All World Athlete’2020 Programme which is the recent jewel in his crown.
After being forced to postpone the European Championship, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin fears football on the continent is facing its biggest crisis ever.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought the European game to a standstill, and there is no way of knowing when the action can resume. The latest step was for UEFA, the governing body of the sport in Europe, to postpone the continent's showcase tournament from this summer to next year.
And Ceferin knows the difficulties are far from over.
"It is the biggest crisis that football faced in history," Ceferin said in a television interview with The Associated Press from his native Slovenia. "We all know that this terrible virus that is all across Europe made football and all life in Europe quite impossible. We knew we have to stop the competitions."
The financial hit for UEFA from turning Euro 2020 into Euro 2021 will be significant.
"It will go to hundreds of millions of euros," Ceferin said.
UEFA has reserves of 574.8 million euros ($632 million) that have been built up by being able to sell the rights to some of the most appealing fixtures in the global game. The European Championship generates around 2 billion euros for UEFA from sponsors and broadcasters — companies that will also feel the wider repercussions of a virus that is bringing so much of life in Europe to a standstill.
"The economic situation in Europe and in the world will harm us as well," Ceferin said. "It's not only about the losses that we will have directly with postponing of the Euro, but it will affect all the economy. And now today, it's time for unity and for deciding. And tomorrow, it's time to start assessing the possible damages. But I still think I'm sure that we all together will finish this and come. We will come out stronger than ever."
That could require finding a means to financially support clubs whose key sources of revenue have been wiped out by the leagues across Europe being forced to come to a grinding halt.
"We are all the same in the same situation here and we have to help each other," Ceferin said. "When we see what kind of financial impact are we talking about, then we will see how to help. But yes, some clubs, some leagues will have serious problems.
"But you shouldn't forget about national associations because the sole source of revenue of national associations is mainly UEFA. So it will be a bit hard in a few months or years, but we will step together. And as I said, I'm very optimistic and we will solve the situation."
A working group will assess the financial landscape for football in Europe, while another explores solutions for competitions on hiatus — domestically and those run by UEFA like the Champions League, which has some last-16 fixtures still to complete.
"We think that postponing the Euro is the only chance to get a chance to the national leagues and to all the club competitions to finish their competitions, but also that is not sure for now," Ceferin said. "For the competition for sure it's the best (to complete), but is it possible, concerning the calendar, which is extremely tight? It's hard to say."
Moving the Euros to June 11-July 11 2021 means moving into a slot reserved by FIFA for its newly-expanded Club World Cup, which had yet to find financing or agree to a format after tensions with UEFA over the concept.
"I spoke to the FIFA president (Gianni Infantino) this morning," Ceferin said. "I told him that it's likely to happen, that the Euro will be postponed to 2021. And of course, it's my opinion, and I think it's the only possible solution, that the Club World Cup that year (2021) cannot happen."
What might also have to change is the European Championship format. The plan, logistically challenging long before the spread of a new coronavirus, sees games played in 12 cities across 12 countries, with the semifinals and final due to be at Wembley Stadium in London.
"The plan is to have the same venues, the same cities, the same stadiums," Ceferin said. "But if anything gets complicated, then we can as well do it with 11, then nine or less stadiums. But the plan is that everything stays the same."
Ceferin is more certain of the need to move two other UEFA national team competitions that were scheduled around June and July 2021: the men's Under-21s European Championship and the Women's Euros that England was due to host.
Ceferin said it was "most likely" the women's showpiece would move to 2022.
"I don't think that we should cannibalize the women's Euro with the men's Euro just one month before," Ceferin said.
For now, with Switzerland locking down in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, Ceferin is far from UEFA headquarters in Nyon.
"Even the expert doctors don't know when this will finish," Ceferin said from the Slovenian national football headquarters near Ljubljana. "We shouldn't panic, but we should be responsible and now I think the actions that the European governments are starting to do are good. We have to respect it. We have to stay away from going out and hanging with friends. The more we will respect that, the faster the crisis will finish."
Then it will be back to resolving the footballing disputes over the future formats of European competitions, including the Champions League from 2021, and with FIFA over its bid to have greater control of the club game.
"I don't know what will happen concerning the football calendar, but the fact is that what I saw today is that this situation brought us together," Ceferin said. "We saw that our ecosystem is fragile, that it's one ecosystem, that we have to act responsibly and that we have to help each other. There is no more time for egoistic ideas. There is no more time for selfishness ... this is a reset of the world football."
The French Open was postponed for about four months because of the coronavirus pandemic, shifting from May to September and juggling the tennis calendar.
The French tennis federation said Tuesday it will hold its 15-day clay-court event at Roland Garros in Paris from Sept. 20 to Oct. 4, instead of May 24 to June 7, "to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved in organizing the tournament."
In the statement announcing the move, federation President Bernard Giudicelli described it as "a difficult yet brave decision in this unprecedented situation." Later, in a conference call with reporters, Giudicelli acknowledged the other Grand Slam tournaments and the men's and women's professional tours were informed of the change — but not consulted.
"It's unthinkable for us to remove Roland Garros from the calendar. The only thing we had in mind is the interests of the tournament, of the players," Giudicelli said. "We looked at the fortnight that was least damaging for the other (tournaments)."
The French Open's new dates place it right after the hard-court U.S. Open, which currently is scheduled to be held in New York from Aug. 31 to Sept. 13. Having just one week between two major championships, played on different surfaces, would be unusually short.
The U.S. Tennis Association said later Tuesday it is considering "the possibility" of postponing the U.S. Open because of the outbreak.
In a not-so-veiled jab at the French federation, the USTA issued a statement saying that if there were a change in timing, "we recognize that such a decision should not be made unilaterally."
The USTA added that it would only move its major championship "in full consultation" with others, including Grand Slam organizers, the WTA and ATP tours and the International Tennis Federation.
The new timeline for the French Open also conflicts with several hard-court tournaments already slated for those two weeks, as well as the Laver Cup exhibition event in Boston.
"This is madness," tweeted Canadian pro Vasek Pospisil. "Major announcement by Roland Garros changing the dates to one week after the US Open. No communication with the players or the ATP.. we have ZERO say in this sport. It's time. #UniteThePlayers"
This is the first instance of a Grand Slam tournament being affected by the virus that has spread around the world. The next major tennis championship on the calendar is Wimbledon, which is to start in late June in England.
After the French Open's postponement was announced, Richard Lewis, the chief executive of the All England Club, which runs Wimbledon, said his group was continuing to plan for that tournament "at this time."
He added: "It remains a continuously evolving situation and we will act responsibly, in the best interests of wider society."
Several tournaments in March and April already had been called off by the men's and women's tours as a result of COVID-19.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
French President Emmanuel Macron announced Monday that for at least 15 days, people in that country would only be allowed to leave their homes for necessary activities such as shopping for food or going to work. He also banned gatherings of families and friends.
The French Open originally began in 1891 as the French Championships and has allowed foreign entrants since 1925. The only years in its history the tournament was not contested were from 1915-19 because of World War I and from 1940-45 because of World War II.
The end of this year's tournament was supposed to represent the cutoff for ATP and WTA ranking points that would help determine which players were eligible to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics starting in late July.
The French federation said people who already purchased tickets for the French Open can ask for either refunds or exchanges.
Among the storylines anticipated for this edition of Roland Garros: Will Rafael Nadal be able to add a 13th title in Paris to his already record-setting collection there? Might Serena Williams make another run at winning a 24th Grand Slam trophy? And, now that the dates have changed, could Roger Federer end up participating? He was going to miss the tournament in May because he recently had knee surgery.
As a different set of lawyers took over for the U.S. Soccer Federation, new USSF President Cindy Parlow Cone disavowed papers submitted by the previous attorneys who argued women's national team players had lesser skills and responsibilities than their male counterparts.
Parlow Cone took over as head of American soccer's governing body last week when Carlos Cordeiro abruptly resigned because of the backlash over the documents, submitted by the USSF as it defended a gender discrimination lawsuit filed by women's national team players.
Seyfarth Shaw had represented the federation since the suit was filed in March 2019. Latham & Watkins replaced it in Monday's night's filing, made simultaneously with a statement by Parlow Cone, a former World Cup and Olympic champion for the U.S.
"Last week's legal filing was an error," Parlow Cone said. "It resulted from a fundamental breakdown in our internal process that led to offensive assertions made by the federation that do not represent our core values."
Both sides have moved for summary judgments, asking U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner to decide in their favor without a trial, currently scheduled for May 5. They filed final documents associated with those requests late Monday night.
Parlow Cone, who had been the federation's vice president since last year, became the first woman president in the USSF's 107-year history. She struck a conciliatory tone.
"The WNT is the most successful soccer team in the world. As it relates to the lawsuit filed by the women, I offer the perspective of a former player. I know how important it is for both the federation and the players to move beyond this and keep working together on what unites us," she said. "We only have one federation and one senior women's national team. We have to work together and move forward in a positive manner toward what I know are mutual goals, growing the game and winning."
Players claim they have not been paid equally to the men's national team and asked for more than $66 million in damages under the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The federation's claims in court documents that the women's team didn't have the physical abilities or the same responsibilities as the men's team drew criticism from sponsors, including The Coca-Cola Co. and The Proctor & Gamble Co., as well as MLS Commissioner Don Garber, a USSF board member.
The outcry prompted Cordeiro to issue an apology last week while the women's team was playing Japan in the SheBelieves Cup. The women protested by wearing their warmup jerseys inside out before the game — obscuring the U.S. Soccer crest but still showing the four stars symbolizing the team's World Cup victories.
"These assertions are based on pernicious stereotypes, are devoid of any factual support in the record, and are so imbued with discriminatory animus that then-President Carlos Cordeiro apologized for them on behalf of USSF and resigned his post," lawyers for the players wrote in their filing Monday. "But his actions do not erase the impact of USSF's admitted motivations, which demonstrate, as a matter of law, that plaintiffs' sex was at least `a basis' under the EPA and `a motivating factor' under Title VII for USSF's pay discrimination."
Players countered U.S. Soccer's claims they are paid less because the FIFA prize money for the men is far greater than the funds for the women.
FIFA awarded $400 million for the 2018 men's World Cup, including $38 million to champion France — the U.S. men failed to qualify. It allocated $30 million for last year's Women's World Cup, including $4 million to the U.S. after the Americans won their second straight title. FIFA has increased the total to $440 million for the 2022 men's World Cup and FIFA President Gianni Infantino has proposed FIFA double the women's prize money to $60 million for 2023.
The players maintain that FIFA pays bonuses to national federations, and each makes its own deal with its players.
The USSF has said pay for the two teams is structured differently because of distinct collective bargaining agreements. The men's team is paid by appearance and performance, while the women also draw salaries and have benefits.
The federation claims the women have been collectively paid $37 million to $21 million for the men's national team over the past five years. The women's team has played in more matches and has been more successful during that time frame, winning consecutive World Cup titles. The men failed to make the field for the 2018 World Cup.
"What equality requires is the same opportunity to earn as much as the men. This opportunity has been repeatedly denied," said Molly Levinson, spokeswoman for the players who sued. "USSF also returns to its false argument that the women players chose other benefits over equal pay in bargaining.
"The women players sought equal pay and USSF refused. This is also not a defense to an equal pay violation," she added. "These are times for unity, not division. USSF should stop trying to change the conversation and just change. Pay women players equally."
Latham & Watkins defended the USSF in a wage discrimination complaint filed by women's players in 2016 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.