NBA ‘very comfortable’ with restart venue despite coronavirus surge

The NBA confirmed its July 30 restart inside the league’s ‘bubble’ at Disney World in Orlando. (AFP)
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Updated 27 June 2020

NBA ‘very comfortable’ with restart venue despite coronavirus surge

  • ‘We’re not saying full steam ahead no matter what happens’
  • ‘We are left with no choice but to learn to live with this virus. No options are risk-free right now’

NEW YORK: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Friday the league remains “very comfortable” with its decision to restart the season in Florida as the state battled a dramatic surge in coronavirus cases.
In a conference call with reporters held after the league confirmed details of its July 30 restart, Silver said the league would be ready to halt play if there was a significant outbreak among NBA players and personnel inside the league’s “bubble” at Disney World in Orlando.
But Silver added the league was confident that protocols put in place at the Disney World campus would be sufficient to shield NBA players and staff from the worst of the escalating COVID-19 crisis in surrounding areas.
Health officials in Florida on Friday announced 8,942 new cases of the disease, smashing the previous single-day record of 5,511 set earlier this week.
Cases in Orange County, where Orlando is located, have skyrocketed to more than 6,500 from 1,800 cases a month ago.
“My ultimate conclusion is that we can’t outrun the virus and this is what we’re going to be living with for the foreseeable future, which is why we designed the campus the way we did,” Silver said.
“It’s a closed network and while it’s not impermeable we are in essence protected from cases around us. For those reasons we’re still very comfortable being in Orlando.
“We’re never going to say there’s nothing that would cause us to change our plans, but one thing we’re learning about this virus is there’s so much that’s unpredictable.
“We’re not saying full steam ahead no matter what happens. We talk daily and we’re going to see how this continues to play out. But we feel very comfortable right now with where we are.”
Silver meanwhile said isolated coronavirus cases which emerged during the restarted season would see players placed in quarantine.
“If we had a single player test positive, frankly whether that player was an All-Star or a journeyman, that player would then go into quarantine and we would be tracking any player or personnel that player had been in contact with,” Silver said.
“We would then supplement the testing just to make sure that others haven’t been contaminated but we would continue. And that team would be down a man. We would treat that positive test as if it was an injury and we would not delay the continuation of the playoffs.”
However, Silver acknowledged a larger outbreak could lead to the season being halted.
“If we were to have a significant spread of coronavirus through our community, that might ultimately lead us to stop it,” he said.
“But we’re working closely with the players association, Disney and public health officials in Florida as to what that line should be and as yet it hasn’t been precisely defined.
“We want to get down on the ground and see how the testing and protocols are working and we’ll make decisions as we go.”
The coronavirus pandemic forced the NBA to shut down the campaign March 11 after Rudy Gobert tested positive for the deadly virus.
Silver said the decision to resume the season on a “closed campus” had not been the NBA’s preferred option.
“We looked at several different models all based on the data around society,” Silver said.
“It was not our first choice to play on a closed campus. The data led us to conclude we did need to play on a closed campus under the protocols we’re talking about — mandatory masking, no fans, contact tracing, aggressive testing etc.
“We are left with no choice but to learn to live with this virus. No options are risk-free right now.”
Earlier Friday, the NBA revealed that 16 players had tested positive for COVID-19 out of 302 tests conducted on Tuesday.
None of the players or teams involved were revealed by the NBA in a brief statement.
The tests were required as part of the agreement for players who have committed to participating in the season restart in Florida.
Each player who tested positive will remain in self-isolation until he meets public health protocol for leaving isolation and is cleared by a physician.


Bayern Munich, as always, the team to beat in Bundesliga

Updated 17 September 2020

Bayern Munich, as always, the team to beat in Bundesliga

  • Bayern’s main challengers are Leipzig; they open title defense Friday at home against Schalke

DUSSELDORF, Germany: Bayern Munich is always the team to beat in Germany. As the European champions, even more so, and Robert Lewandowski knows it.

Lewandowski scored a scarcely believable 55 goals in 47 games last season as Bayern won the Bundesliga, German Cup and Champions League. At 32, he is still a key player, though the team around him looks different with Leroy Sané in and Thiago Alcantara leaving.

“If you play so good in the last season, then everyone is looking at you now and how you will be in the new season,” Lewandowski said in the run-up to Friday’s season opener. “And if you are on the top you have to work harder to stay longer on the top. And I think so for us that is the big challenge for this season.”

Just like last year, Bayern’s main challengers are Leipzig, the only team to stay undefeated against Bayern last season, and Dortmund, whose young stars are rapidly gaining experience and maturity.

Bayern ended up winning the title by 13 points last season, but for most of the campaign it was a much closer battle. The Munich team slipped as low as seventh in December before recovering under coach Hansi Flick to win 19 of their last 20 league games and a record-extending eighth straight Bundesliga title.

Bayern start  Friday at home against Schalke, before Dortmund play Borussia Mönchengladbach on Saturday and Leipzig host Mainz on Sunday. Bayern will follow that with matches against Sevilla in the European Super Cup on Sept. 24 and against Dortmund in the German Super Cup six days later.

 

No fans

After the last campaign finished without fans, a deal between German politicians Tuesday allows supporters back into stadiums for a six-week trial at maximum 20 percent capacity — with one big exception.

Bayern wanted 7,500 fans on Friday but fell foul of a rule which keeps the stadiums closed if the local coronavirus infection rate climbs too high.

Games with partial crowds have split Germany’s vocal fan groups. Boycotts are rare but many say they won’t take part in any organized displays of support for the team. Social distancing rules kill the atmosphere, some argue, and there’s widespread discontent with the perceived unfairness of barring away fans and allocating the few available tickets by lottery.

 

New-look Bayern

With barely four weeks between the Champions League final against Paris Saint-Germain and the start of the new league season, it’s hardly surprising that Bayern’s squad has changed little.

Forward Leroy Sane is finally eligible to play after joining from Manchester City in July and could make his debut against Schalke, the team he left in 2016. New signings were barred from the Champions League tournament. He will need to find his place in an attack already boasting Lewandowski, Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry.

Midfielder Thiago Alcantara left Bayern after seven years for Liverpool on Thursday and likely won’t be replaced. Three loan signings have also moved on. Philippe Coutinho is back at Barcelona, with Ivan Perisic returning to Inter Milan and defender Alvaro Odriozola to Real Madrid.

 

Dortmund’s year?

Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho lit up the Bundesliga last season — Haaland with 13 goals in 15 games and Sancho with 17 goals and 17 assists — but Dortmund’s title challenge was once again let down by defensive frailty.

Perhaps surprisingly, Dortmund have not  bought a center back. However, they have replaced rampaging right back Achraf Hakimi, who was on loan from Real Madrid, by signing the more experienced Thomas Meunier from Paris Saint-Germain.

Sancho is still a Dortmund player — so far — despite a determined attempt by Manchester United to buy him. The transfer window closes on Oct. 5.

Seventeen-year-old English midfielder Jude Bellingham looks like Dortmund’s next young sensation after arriving from Birmingham, and scored on his debut in the German Cup on Monday. But there’s still a lack of depth at the back, with midfielder Emre Can drafted in at center back for the cup game.

 

Replacing Werner

Leipzig’s run to the Champions League semifinals was remarkable for a team only founded 11 years earlier, even given energy drink giant Red Bull’s financial backing, but it obscured a fundamental weakness for next season.

Without Werner, both of Leipzig’s goals in the 2-1 quarterfinal win over Atletico Madrid came from midfielders, and the 3-0 semifinal loss to PSG could have been very different had center forward Yussuf Poulsen not missed a good first-half chance while trailing 1-0.

New signing Hwang Hee-chan started in the center forward role and scored in Leipzig’s first game of the new season, a 3-0 win over third-division club Nuremburg in the German Cup. The South Korean is Leipzig’s 17th signing since 2012 from Salzburg, Red Bull’s Austrian club.

Known for his pace and incisive runs, Hwang is more in Werner’s mold, while Poulsen is an old-school center forward known for his heading ability.

 

Outside challengers

Gladbach was the team which surprised everyone last season in the Bundesliga.

During Bayern’s blip under former coach Niko Kovac, Gladbach was the early-season leader and eventually secured Champions League qualification by finishing fourth. The pandemic has caused financial strain, though, and on-loan midfielder Valentino Lazaro is the most notable signing.

Bayer Leverkusen, last year’s fifth-place finisher, was weakened in attack by selling Kai Havertz to Chelsea and Kevin Volland to Monaco. It has patched the gaps by signing Roma forward Patrik Schick.

Hertha Berlin investor Lars Windhorst’s lavish funding hasn’t translated to big spending in the off-season. Lucas Tousart is the most notable arrival, though that deal was actually concluded in January.