Thursday, October 22

Ronaldo, Johnson test positive as coronavirus surge hits sport

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This handout photo shows Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo giving the thumb up as he watches a training session from a balcony at Portugal’s training camp in Oeiras, on the outskirts of Lisbon. — AFP photo

PARIS: Football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and men’s golf world number one Dustin Johnson both tested positive for the coronavirus as a surge in cases cast a shadow over the return of professional sport.

Ronaldo, the 35-year-old five-time Ballon d’Or winner, is asymptomatic but has withdrawn from Portugal’s Nations League game against Sweden on Wednesday. He played in Sunday’s 0-0 draw against France.

“We have respected all the health measures… and yet it happened,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said.

The rest of the Portugal squad, and France’s players, have all tested negative.

New Zealand also scrapped next month’s friendly against England on Wednesday as the coronavirus played havoc with the return of international football.

Dustin Johnson

America’s Johnson, 36, was forced out of this week’s CJ Cup in Las Vegas as he became the highest-profile golfer to test positive for Covid-19. Johnson said he was “very disappointed”.

The positive tests by two of the world’s top athletes highlight a rash of cases coinciding with the resumption of many sports competitions in recent weeks, often in bio-secure “bubbles” and behind closed doors.

The cases, seen everywhere from football to cycling, rugby union, rugby league, American football and Formula One, also mirror a surge in Covid-19 across much of the world, including Europe and the United States.

Professional sport was brought to a halt worldwide as the pandemic advanced in March, threatening an industry estimated to be worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

Many competitions have now emerged from their shutdowns, but international travel remains a major challenge. New Zealand said travel restrictions and quarantine measures would have made it impossible to field a strong team at Wembley on November 12.

“Looking at the restrictions currently in place, as well as the rising number of Covid-19 cases across Europe, it just isn’t possible to put a competitive squad together,” said All Whites coach Danny Hay, adding that he was “gutted”.

Ronaldo’s Juventus team-mate Giorgio Chiellini attempted to play down the positive test by one of the world’s best paid athletes, saying the forward was “fine and sunbathing”.

However, the incident renews controversy over his departure from Turin, where health authorities said it was a breach of virus protocols after two Juventus staff members tested positive.

Elsewhere, Scotland and Ireland’s plans for crucial Euro 2020 playoff matches were also disrupted by coronavirus cases, while others were forced into self-isolation after team-mates tested positive.

China-based Italy forward Stephan El Shaarawy tested positive and then negative before a friendly against the Netherlands in Bergamo, intended as a tribute to the city which was hard-hit by the pandemic.

Coach Pavel Hapal was among nine cases in Slovakia’s camp ahead of Wednesday’s Nations League match against Israel. And Senegal’s home friendly with Mauritania was called off after the visitors reported eight positive tests.

England manager Gareth Southgate, whose team play Denmark on Wednesday earlier defended the decision to press ahead with international games.

“The reality of the world at the moment is we don’t know what the rules will be. In this day and age you have to live form week to week,” Southgate said. “There is no reason international football should be a higher risk.”

American football’s National Football League admitted the post-season could be extended after games were moved over a cluster of cases affecting the Tennessee Titans and New England Patriots, including Patriots quarterback Cam Newton.

In cycling, two teams, Mitchelton and Jumbo-Visma, were forced out of the Giro d’Italia after eight positive cases in one day. The three-week race, now down to 21 teams, still has nearly two weeks to run.

Jumbo’s Dutch rider Jos van Emden questioned the bubble put in place to avoid coronavirus infections, underlining the complexity of organising competitions during a pandemic.

“In the hotel buffets, there were people who were not part of the bubble,” he told The Cycling Podcast.

In English rugby league, Salford will have to make team changes for the Challenge Cup final against Leeds, after two players tested positive and two were inconclusive.

A number of rugby union players, including Italy’s Gloucester scrum-half Stephen Varney, have also tested positive. But after the coronavirus was contained in New Zealand, the All Blacks and Australia will play the second Bledisloe Cup Test in front of packed crowds in Auckland on Sunday. — AFP