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.


F1 season kicks off with astonishing, chaotic race in Austria

Updated 06 July 2020

F1 season kicks off with astonishing, chaotic race in Austria

  • Mercedes dominance, Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton leading the charge, and Red Bull providing the challenge

DUBAI: Formula 1 is back. And, for the majority of the season’s much delayed first race, it looked business as usual.

Mercedes dominance, Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton leading the charge, and Red Bull providing the challenge.

But this, despite Bottas’  eventual victory, would prove anything but an ordinary race, for so many reasons.

The Austrian Grand Prix, the first race of the shortened season, was, like all top class sporting events around the world, taking place with no fans inside the Red Bull Ring, a legacy of the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

The empty stands may have given this the initial look of a practice session, but the race would prove anything but routine.

This was a dramatic, often chaotic, return to action for Formula 1’s finest.

No doubt, the absence of motorsports’ most passionate and colorful fans, who in normal circumstances would have descended on Spielberg, Austria, were missed.

But for those watching on television, the truth is that the intensity of Formula1 action, unlike in football, and perhaps other team sports when they resume, is not overly affected by taking place behind closed doors.

 And it is something that the public will no doubt quickly adapt to. For now, only seven other rounds of the 2020 season have been confirmed; in Austria again (Red Bull Ring, July 10-12), will be followed by the Hungarian Grand Prix (July 17-19), two British Grand Prix races (Silverstone, July 31-Aug. 2 and Aug. 7-9); the Spanish Grand Prix (Barcelona, Aug. 14-16); Belgian Grand Prix (Spa-Francorchamps, 28-30); and the Italian Grand Prix (Monza, Sept. 4-6).

Other races are pending, and fans in the Middle East will be hoping that the restart continues to go according to plan, hopefully leading to the confirmation of the Bahrain Grand Prix later this year, and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as the season’s finale.

Before the race the drivers had worn anti-racism T-shirts, though there was an element of controversy when several drivers, including Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc chose not to take the knee like their  rivals. Both explained  their stance on their social media accounts.

The early stages as expected were dominated by Mercedes and Red Bull, with Bottas and  Hamilton separated in first and fourth by Verstappen and Alexander Albon in 2nd and third.

After the reigning champion Hamilton overtook Albon in the early stages, one of the race’s turning points saw Verstappen retire after gear failure. With fewer points on offer this season, this could turn out to be a decisive incident, even at this early stage.

Bottas and Hamilton, now in first and second, seemed to have the race under control for Mercedes.

Lap 28 saw the safety car come out, but when the green light came back on Bottas streaked away followed by Hamilton with Albon in third and British driver Lando Norris, excelling in a McLaren, in fourth.

Within seconds from the restart, Vettel’s Ferrari spun as he attempted to overtake Carlos Sainz, and though he avoided an accident, it meant he dropped to 15th.

Less than half way through the race, the Austrian Grand Prix was providing more drama and incidents than millions glued to their televisions could have dared hope for.

The race now settled into a battle between Bottas and Hamilton, and even another intervention of the safety car after 52 laps could not put them out of their stride.

Kimi Raikkonen’s exit with 15 laps meant seven drivers had retired.

 But with with five laps left, Hamilton was penalized five seconds for an accident with Albon. Suddenly second place, for long seemingly a lock for Mercedes, was now up for grabs. Indeed, so was third.

Hamilton, to ensure a podium finish needed to beat Norris (in fourth) by more than five seconds. But Norris saved his best till last, his fastest lap ensuring the gap between him and the champion was sub-five seconds.

Bottas was the first winner of the season, second place went to Leclerc and Ferrari, and a disbelieving Norris and McLaren team in third.

Hamilton, in the blink of an eye, dropped to fourth.

The podium presentation no doubt lacked its usual celebratory vibe, but try telling that to Leclerc and Norris who could not have dreamed of this conclusion.

 If the remainder of the 2020 races live up to this astionishing Austrian Grand Prix, Formula 1’s shortest season could turn out to be one of its best.