FORMULA ONE: Seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton voiced concern for fans visiting next month’s British Grand Prix, calling the decision to allow a full capacity crowd at Silverstone “a bit premature” amid the rising number of coronavirus cases.
Organizers announced Thursday they received government approval to host up to 130,000 fans for the July 18 race, but Hamilton said he was feeling “split” about the decision.
“I watch the news, so I hear about the cases going up in the UK. On that side I’m worrying for people, naturally,” Hamilton said. “I know that the UK rates have increased since people are loosening up a bit and not everyone is vaccinated. There is less people being in hospital but it feels a bit premature to me. I hope we learn something from it, and I hope people stay safe and keep their masks on.”
The Silverstone team said it was working with health authorities in Northamptonshire on the specific conditions of entry that will enable the event to operate safely. It said visitors must show proof of full vaccination or proof of a negative lateral flow test taken within 48 hours of arrival.
The announcement came after a day with more than 16,000 new confirmed cases in the United Kingdom – the highest number since early February. The figure marked a rise of nearly 5,000 compared to Tuesday, and of over 7,000 compared to last Wednesday.
Silverstone will host the second Grand Prix with a full capacity crowd since the start of the pandemic, after next week’s Austrian GP.
Hamilton said he did not want to “turn it into a negative” and that he was excited “to see people, and firstly to see the British crowd … to be out to see them and feel the energy that they bring into a weekend.”
Hamilton main’s challenger for the F1 title this season, championship leader Max Verstappen, called a packed Silverstone “simply lovely.”
UEFA RULE CHANGE: The away-goals rule was abolished Thursday by UEFA after 56 years as a fundamental way of deciding matches in its European club competitions. The move was often proposed in recent years by club coaches who felt an idea from the 1960s was no longer relevant.
Games now tied on aggregate score after the regulation 90 minutes in the second leg will go direct to extra time and then to a penalty shootout.
WIMBLEDON: Reigning U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem pulled out of Wimbledon and two other tournaments Thursday because of an injured right wrist. Thiem would have been seeded No. 4 at the All England Club, where main-draw action begins Monday.
“I’m going to do everything the doctors say in order to recover as quickly as possible,” Thiem said. “They’ve informed me that I might be out for several weeks, but I will do my best to be back on court soon.”
The 27-year-old from Austria retired during the opening set of his first match at the Mallorca Open grass-court tuneup tournament this week, citing his wrist. Thiem then went to Barcelona for additional tests, which found what his management team said Thursday is a “detachment of the posterior sheath of the ulnar side of the right wrist.”
Thiem will need to wear a wrist splint for five weeks before starting a rehabilitation program. He said he will sit out Wimbledon and tournaments at Hamburg, Germany, and Gstaad, Switzerland.
BAD HOMBORG OPEN: The quarterfinals of the Bad Homburg Open were washed out by bad weather on Thursday as Victoria Azarenka withdrew from the event ahead of Wimbledon. The quarterfinals and semifinals will be played on Friday.
No play was possible on the grass courts in central Germany but the identity of one semifinalist still became clear. The second-seeded Azarenka withdrew for reasons which weren’t immediately reported by the WTA. That gave seventh-seeded Sara Sorribes Tormo a place in the semifinals by walkover. She will play Laura Siegemund or Katerina Siniakova.
Azarenka came off a tough second-round win over Alize Cornet which lasted nearly three hours on Wednesday.
DOPING INVESTIGATION: A culture of alleged corruption among international weightlifting officials was detailed Thursday in an investigative report of covered-up doping cases for athletes who won Olympic and world championship medals.
Three of the sport’s longtime leaders – former International Weightlifting Federation president Tamás Aján, vice president Nicolae Vlad and executive board member Hasan Akkus – were charged with a range of complicity and tampering offenses under the World Anti-Doping Code. Alleged misconduct for a decade up to 2019, including 146 unresolved doping cases, was laid out in a 50-page document. The investigation was run by the International Testing Agency, which manages anti-doping programs for Olympic sports.
Reasons for the failures to prosecute some doping cases ranged from “chaotic organizational processes” and errors to “outright negligence, complicity, or – at worst – blatant and intentional cover-ups,” ITA investigators wrote. A total of 29 cases cannot be prosecuted due to destroyed evidence or expiring statute of limitations.
Aján and Vlad were implicated in allowing a woman from Vlad’s home country, Romania, whom they knew was implicated in doping offenses, to compete and win a silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics. The lifter, Roxana Cocoș, was stripped of her medal years later when retests revealed her steroid use.
The ITA has proposed lifetime bans for Aján and Vlad, while Akkus has been offered a four-year ban. If they don’t accept the bans, the ITA will prosecute the charges at the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s anti-doping tribunal.