WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump on Saturday night expressed his hope that major American sports leagues hit by the coronavirus pandemic would resume “sooner rather than later”, but declined to set a timetable for a restart date.
On a conference call with the commissioners of the National Football League (NFL), the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Baseball (MLB), he spoke of his desire to see “fans back in the arenas… whenever we’re ready”.
Mr Trump told NFL commissioner Roger Goodell that he still felt the season would kick off as scheduled in September.
He then told reporters at a White House briefing: “As soon as we can obviously. I can’t tell you a date, but it’s going to be sooner rather than later.”
He also touched on the social-distancing measures governments worldwide, including his own, have imposed to tackle the spread of the disease, leading to bans on mass gatherings.
As such, MLB and NBA officials are reportedly studying plans to play games without fans at neutral venues, including Las Vegas for the NBA play-offs, to minimise the risks of infection associated with crowded arenas.
Although Mr Trump acknowledged this is a necessary evil – as inconvenient as it is – he left open the possibility of spectators being eventually let back into stadiums.
“We’re not going to have separation for the rest of our times on the planet,” he said.
“We need it for this period of time. But eventually people are going to be able to occupy those seats next to each other. I’m not committing to it. It would be great if we could.
“The fans want to be back, too. They want to see basketball, baseball, football and hockey. They want to see their sports. They want to go out onto the golf courses and breathe nice, clean, beautiful fresh air.”
The NFL has so far made no plans to alter the start of its 2020-2021 season, with pre-season games usually starting in August.
However, California Governor Gavin Newsom was sceptical of the possibility of American football resuming in August or September.
Speaking at his daily briefing, he warned of a possible resurgence in infections if professional sports restarted too soon.
Asked about the possibility of fans filling out venues later in the year, he said: “I’m not anticipating that happening in this state.
“We’ve all seen the headlines in the last couple of days in Asia where they were opening up certain businesses and now they’re starting to roll back those openings because there’s some spread, a boomerang.
“One has to be very cautious not to overpromise. I have a lot of friends that work in MLB, the NFL and basketball who have been asking me. I would move very cautiously.
“I’m not here to second guess anybody, but I am here to say this, ‘Our decision on that basis, at least here in the state of California will be determined by the facts, by the health experts and our capacity to bend the curve.'”
The US has the world’s highest number of Covid-19 cases. More than 310,000 people have been infected and over 8,400 have died as of yesterday.