Trump eager to ‘get sports back’ as league chiefs remain wary

WASHINGTON (AFP) – United States (US) President Donald Trump is hankering for a return of live sports action, but US league supremos are taking a cautious approach to competition amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have to get our sports back,” Trump said on Tuesday. “I’m tired of watching baseball games that are 14 years old.”

Sports in America, like the rest of the world, have been brought to a virtual standstill by COVID-19.

The NBA shut down on March 11 after Utah Jazz centre Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus, and the NHL, Major League Soccer and the US PGA Tour quickly followed suit.

Major League Baseball’s 2020 season, due to start March 26, is on hold, as is the LPGA tour and motor racing, while the NFL is just hoping it will be able to start its season on time in September.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred. PHOTO: AP

The dearth of sports has led to a wealth of speculation as to when and how competition could resume.

The NBA and NHL are wrestling with how they might fashion credible ends to campaigns that were heading into their final stages.

Baseball, meanwhile, was reported to be considering sequestering 30 teams in Arizona – or perhaps Arizona and Florida – to open the season playing games in empty ballparks.

One ESPN reporter said he’d even heard it suggested that MLB might try to launch its season in Japan. The NHL was reportedly mulling a single-venue re-start in North Dakota, while Dana White, head of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, indicated he was considering holding mixed martial arts cards on a private island.

“From our perspective we don’t have a plan, we have lots of ideas,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a television interview on Tuesday. “What ideas come to fruition will depend on what the restrictions are, what the public health situation is.”

His comments echoed those of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who have both said that the uncertainties surrounding the spread of coronavirus make it impossible to make firm plans.

The refrain of all sports leaders has therefore been they are considering “all options,” including playing without fans in attendance.

That could get live sports back on television, at least, although Trump indicated that he’s keen for more.

“We want people actually sitting next to each other at ball games, eventually,”
he said.

“We’re not going to rip out every other seat in baseball stadiums and football stadiums.”
In the US, however, the return of thousands of fans to sports venues could depend on the greenlight from state authorities.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Tuesday that the prospect of mass gatherings in the state is “negligible at best” until a vaccine is available.

In a state that is home to nearly 20 major pro franchises, Newsom said that “large-scale events that bring in hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of strangers altogether across every conceivable difference, health and otherwise, is not in the cards based upon our current guidelines and current expectations.”

That may be just as well, since a poll conducted by Seton Hall University this month showed that 72 per cent of the 762 responding, including 61 per cent who identified as sports fans, would not feel safe attending sports events until a coronavirus vaccine is found.

Some inroads may be possible however, as Florida governor Ron DeSantis – a staunch Trump ally – showed in issuing an executive order specifying that “employees at a professional sports and media production with a national audience” counted among “essential services” not subject to stay at home orders in his state.

That opened the door for World Wrestling Entertainment – run by another Trump friend Vince McMahon – to resume live broadcasts of events on Monday from an Orlando studio facility.