Premiership and Championship rugby sides have been given permission to return to non-contact training.

The Professional Game Board (PGB) confirmed on Tuesday that teams are now allowed to hold individual conditioning sessions provided social distancing measures are maintained.

The top flight in England was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it is hoped the season can be resumed, despite all levels from the Championship and below seeing their campaigns cancelled.

"The clubs will need to satisfy a number of requirements to start Stage 1 as we continue the huge amount of work being undertaken to enable a safe return to training," Chris Booy, PGB Chair, said in a statement.

"The welfare of the players, management and staff is our only priority, and we look forward to the season resuming when it is safe to do so."

Premiership clubs have also given unanimous backing to an overhaul of salary-cap regulations.

A review led by Lord Myners put forward 52 recommendations last month as part of a comprehensive assessment of the cap rules.

Although neither the level of the salary cap nor the issue around marquee player allowances have yet been addressed, all 52 recommendations put forward have won the support of clubs.

The suggested changes include increasing the severity of sporting sanctions on clubs in breach of the rules to include relegation, suspension, stripping of titles and the return of prize money.

The review followed the decision to relegate reigning champions Saracens at the end of 2019-20 due to repeated breaches of the salary cap.

Hall of Fame center Wes Unseld, who spent his entire NBA career with the Bullets franchise, has died at the age of 74. 

The Washington Wizards released a statement from Unseld's family on Tuesday that said he passed away following lengthy health battles, most recently with pneumonia. 

"He was the rock of our family – an extremely devoted patriarch who revelled in being with his wife, children, friends and team-mates," the statement said. 

"He was our hero and loved playing and working around the game of basketball for the cities of Baltimore and Washington D.C., cities he proudly wore on his chest for so many years."

Unseld played collegiately at Louisville before the Baltimore Bullets selected him with the second overall pick in the 1968 NBA Draft. 

He was named the NBA Rookie of the Year and NBA MVP for the 1968-69 season, joining Wilt Chamberlain (1959-60) as the only players to accomplish the feat. 

Unseld earned five All-Star selections in his first seven seasons in the league before being named NBA Finals MVP after leading Washington to their only championship in 1977-78. 

He ended his playing career following the 1980-81 season and moved into the front office in Washington before eventually taking over as head coach during the 1987-88 season. 

Unseld went just 202-345 with one playoff appearance as Washington's coach before resigning after the 1993-94 season. He was named general manager of the Bullets in 1996 and stayed in that position through the 2002-03 season. 

Unseld is the franchise leader in games played (984) and rebounds (13,769), and ranks second in assists (3,822) and fifth in points (10,624). His tally of rebounds is the 12th most in NBA history. 

He was selected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1988 and the National College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. 

"We all admired Wes as the pillar of this franchise for so long, but it was his work off the court that will truly leave an impactful legacy and live on through the many people he touched and influenced throughout his life of basketball and beyond," Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said. 

Christian Horner has promised the season-opening showdowns at the home of the Austrian Grand Prix will prove "a blueprint for all other races to follow".

The delayed Formula One season is set to launch with grands prix on back-to-back weekends, the races at the Spielberg track billed for July 5 and July 12.

The races will be known as the Austrian Grand Prix and the Styrian Grand Prix. Styria is the Austrian region in which the track sits.

Horner, team principal of the Red Bull team, pointed to the work that has been carried out to ensure the circuit will be secure and ready to hold behind-closed-doors races amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Spielberg venue is also known as the Red Bull Ring, given it is owned by the energy drink manufacturer's co-owner Dietrich Mateschitz.

Horner said in a team statement: "Red Bull have pulled out all the stops to get the Austrian Grand Prix up and running, in order to support a safe start to the Formula One season.

"It's a fantastic venue and we are pleased to be starting our championship campaign at our home circuit. It has been a huge effort by all involved and the two events at the Red Bull Ring will be a blueprint for all other races to follow."

Horner spoke of talks involving Liberty Media, who are Formula One's promoters and its commercial arm, motorsport governing body the FIA, and local authorities.

"We all have our part to play in order to enforce the measures in place," Horner said.

Teams and all involved in the two races will face regular testing, and staff will be reduced in number to ensure there are as few people as possible at the grands prix.

After two weekends in Austria, each team will move on to Hungary for a July 19 race, before Silverstone in England stages grands prix on August 2 and August 9 - the British Grand Prix and the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix.

Spain, Belgium and Italy are also due to put on races, according to a new calendar released by Formula One organisers on Tuesday.

"With the first eight races of the calendar now confirmed we have some positive momentum," Horner said.

"As a race team and racers, we are excited to get going again and put on a show for our fans."

The 2019-20 Top 14 season has been cancelled with no champions crowned or teams relegated, the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR) announced on Tuesday.

France's domestic professional rugby campaign, which has been on hiatus since March, has been curtailed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

An LNR statement read: "Faced with the exceptional circumstances linked to COVID-19, on a proposal from the Bureau, and at the end of the consultation process carried out within the framework of the organisation set up in the context of the health crisis, the steering committee adopted the resolution providing for the permanent cessation of the professional championships of first division (Top 14) and second division (Pro D2)."

The Top 14 and Pro D2 will return for the 2020-21 campaign with the same teams after promotion and relegation was abandoned.

Qualification for the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup will be determined by the LNR once guidance is received from European Professional Club Rugby.

Bordeaux-Begles were first in the Top 14, eight points clear of Lyon. Stade Francais were last and in danger of dropping into the second division.

The LNR's steering committee will propose at an extraordinary general assembly on June 11 that a state-guaranteed loan be taken out in order to maintain payments assigned to clubs for the 2019-20 campaign.

While professional football has returned in Germany and will soon be back under way in England, Spain and Italy too, the LNR's decision falls in line with the cancellation of Ligue 1.

However, in that case, Paris Saint-Germain were awarded the title and Toulouse and Amiens were relegated to the second tier.

Tiger Woods has described the death of George Floyd while in police custody as "a shocking tragedy".

The 15-time major winner joined a long list of high-profile sports stars to speak out on the incident that has sparked protests across the United States and beyond.

Floyd died after being handcuffed in Minneapolis, with a widely shared video showing a police officer kneeling on his neck as he pleaded, "I can't breathe".

It has led to civil unrest in many US cities, with Woods – who underlined his "respect for law enforcement" – urging calm. 

"My heart goes out to George Floyd, his loved ones and all of us who are hurting right now," Woods wrote in a statement posted on Twitter.

"I have always had the utmost respect for our law enforcement. They train so diligently to understand how, when and where to use force. This shocking tragedy clearly crossed that line.

"I remember the LA riots and learned that education is the best path forward. We can make our points without burning the very neighbourhoods that we live in.

"I hope that through constructive, honest conversations we can build a safer, unified society."

The opening eight races of the truncated 2020 Formula One season have been confirmed, with Spielberg and Silverstone hosting two each.

All of the events are provisionally slated to be held behind closed doors and "under the strongest safety procedures", according to a statement published on F1's official Twitter account.

It also said further races will be announced in the coming weeks as the sport emerges from a coronavirus-enforced shutdown. 

The campaign will begin with the Austrian Grand Prix on July 5, with the teams remaining at the site for another event the following weekend.

After a race in Hungary on July 19, there will be a week off before a double-header on successive weekends at the home of the British Grand Prix.

The Spanish Grand Prix will take place on August 16, before events at Spa and Monza on August 30 and September 6 respectively.

F1's 2020 season had been scheduled to begin with the Australian Grand Prix in March but the event was cancelled when a member of the McLaren garage tested positive for coronavirus.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a further nine races being postponed, with events in the Netherlands, Monaco and France all being written off.

It is still hoped rescheduled events can go ahead in Australia, Bahrain, Vietnam, China, Azerbaijan and Canada.

Daria Kasatkina has no problem playing grand slams behind closed doors amid the coronavirus pandemic, while the former world number 10 talked up the possibility of an ATP-WTA Tour merger.

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc globally, with the WTA Tour suspended since March and not expected to return until August at the earliest.

The French Open has been pushed back to September and the US Open is still scheduled to go ahead, with Wimbledon cancelled for the first time since World War II.

Events are set to be staged without fans when tennis returns, though French Open organisers remain hopeful spectators will be able to attend the rearranged slam at Roland Garros.

World number 12 and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova said she would rather see majors cancelled than be held without fans, but Kasatkina has no issue with a spectator-less slam.

"It's going to be completely different, especially at grand slams and in night sessions on the big courts, it will lose its energy," 2018 French Open and Wimbledon quarter-finalist Kasatkina told Stats Perform News.

"At the same time, at least if we can play the tournament without spectators, for me it's fine. Yes it's different but to play a tournament and gram slam, it doesn't matter spectators or no spectators. As I think Marin Cilic said, it will be different to win a grand slam like the US Open without spectators there, which is true. At least it will be very special and it will stay in the history forever.

"For the moment, Roland Garros looks very positive. If we see how it goes and it keeps like that, I think Roland Garros will happen and they want to do it with spectators, which is really good. It's different to play with spectators, that's for sure.

"The US Open, of course everyone wants to play and I wish to play the US Open – it's such a special tournament – but I'm not that sure because the situation in the United States is still shaky. The main thing is travelling. If it's going to happen, it's going to be very good. I'll be very happy."

The re-arranged French Open in Paris could provide headaches for players, with the clay-court slam set to take place a week after the final of the US Open on hard courts in New York.

"It's going to be an interesting experience, especially to change the surface and the time so much," the Russian said. "At least between Roland Garros and Wimbledon there is one month, but at least it's in one part of the world. If it's like this, players have to accept it. I'll be happy, even if it's going to be like this.

"When we were juniors and just starting to play professional tournaments, we'd play one tournament there on clay and another here and there. For sure, for some players it will be tough and for many players with injuries it will be a little bit dangerous but I hope everything will be okay."

Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, talk of an ATP-WTA merger has emerged – a tweet from 20-time slam champion Roger Federer backing a unified tennis tour sparking the discussions.

Asked about the possibility of the ATP and WTA joining forces, two-time tournament winner Kasatkina said: "I think it would be good to work together because it's much easier to do something with one structure than two structures like the situation we have now. It's easier to promote tennis as a big tour, not like men's or women's tennis.

"I was a little bit surprised because I never thought they were talking about this, I didn't hear anything. So, it was a little bit surprising especially from Roger Federer on Twitter. But I think it's a good idea. Why not be together? It's better."

The coronavirus-enforced break has provided Kasatkina with plenty of time to reflect and recharge, having struggled in 2019 after her breakout season in 2018.

Kasatkina burst onto the scene two years ago by reaching the French Open and Wimbledon quarter-finals before eventually losing to finalists Sloane Stephens and Angelique Kerber, while she also faced Naomi Osaka in the 2018 Indian Wells decider.

However, Kasatkina endured a frustrating 2019 campaign – only progressing beyond the opening round of a slam once last year, at the French Open, and dropping to 66th in the world rankings. There were, though, signs that the 23-year-old was returning to her best prior to the COVID-19 crisis.

Kasatkina reached the last four of the Lyon Open in March, her first WTA semi-final since claiming the Kremlin Cup in October 2018.

"I had a lot of expectations for myself and not only me but the people around after my very successful year in 2018, which I wasn't ready for, especially mentally," Kasatkina, who has become somewhat of a social media queen during the tennis hiatus, said.

"After this, my game fell apart little bit because you have no confidence in your head, there's no confidence in your shots. Rankings drop down as well because I was losing matches.

"I spoke with my coach and many things happened. I was pretty lost at that time but I think that helped me a lot to rebuild my confidence, rebuild my game maybe to change something.

"I think I started the year, not in Australia [first round], but after it better in Lyon. I really felt like I was building up my game again and I'm hungry to play the tournaments and win. Because I finally taste this semi-final, this special tournament. When I came to Indian Wells, I was feeling perfect in the practices. I really felt that if there wasn't the situation with coronavirus, maybe that was the point I could really start again.

"What happened, happened. Now I have the time for myself to maybe think a bit more, to work on the things which I'll probably need when the season starts again. Everything is going the way it should be."

Since losing 6-3 6-2 to Osaka in the 2018 Paribas Open final, Kasatkina has watched the Japanese star go on to win the US Open and Australian Open. Is it a motivation for the right-hander?

"Well after that final and during the tournament, of course I felt I was close to a very high level of tennis," Kasatkina continued. "I showed some good results and finished top 10, which was very positive at the time but maybe a little bit early. After the final, I felt like okay it seems like I have something inside that can bring me higher. But mentally, I wasn't ready."

Kasatkina, who believes she was close to rediscovering her 2018 form before the pandemic, believes the enforced break has been beneficial.

"For sure because for the past season, it was really tough," she added when asked about her time away from the sport. "Maybe it was good I had this time to come down a little bit and live a normal life. Not to rush to every tournaments, tournament by tournament, week by week."

Former Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall recalled kneeling alongside Colin Kaepernick in 2016, insisting "this is what we were talking about then" amid protests over George Floyd's death.

Floyd – an African-American man – died in Minneapolis after a police officer was filmed kneeling on his neck during an arrest last week.

Violent protests have broken out across the United States since Floyd's death, during which he was filmed crying out for help as he was handcuffed and pinned to the ground.

Kaepernick has been out of the NFL since the end of the 2016 season, during which the ex-San Francisco 49ers quarterback attracted controversy by kneeling for the USA national anthem in protest against racial injustice and police brutality.

He filed a grievance against the NFL in 2017, accusing owners of colluding to keep him out of a job. Kaepernick settled that grievance in February.

Marshall also kneeled before games during the 2016 season and the 30-year-old Super Bowl 50 champion told TMZ: "Back then, we were called rogues, people said that we didn't deserve jobs, but this is what we were talking about then.

"I think people are looking at [Kaepernick] now like, OK, maybe he knew. People didn't want to hear the message after 'oh they were kneeling' they didn't want that message, weren't ready for it, didn't listen.

"I hope, and I look at it, I hope people are ready for the message, I really hope they're ready for change.''

Marshall – who played for the Broncos between 2013 and 2018 – said he has spoken to Kaepernick following Floyd's death, adding: "We talked some about what's happened - and this is why he started the Know Your Rights foundation - and I asked him if he needed me to do anything, or what I could do to help.

"He said right now, at the moment, he's concentrating on legal assistance for the protesters, but we'll talk more moving forward.''

Floyd Mayweather Jr. will pay for George Floyd's funeral services, Mayweather Promotions chief executive Leonard Ellerbe confirmed.

Floyd – an African-American man – died in Minneapolis after a police officer was filmed kneeling on his neck during an arrest on Monday.

Violent protests have broken out across the United States since Floyd's death, during which he was filmed crying out for help as he was handcuffed and pinned to the ground.

There has been an outcry of support for Floyd and growing calls to tackle racism in the USA and cross the world.

In the meantime, unbeaten American boxing legend Mayweather – who has a perfect 50-0 record – has committed to paying for all of Floyd's funeral costs.

"He'll probably get mad at me for saying that, but yes, [Mayweather] is definitely paying for the funeral," CEO Ellerbe told ESPN.

Ellerbe added: "Floyd has done these kind of things over the last 20 years."

Mayweather's last boxing bout was the mega-money Las Vegas showdown with UFC star Conor McGregor in August 2017.

After that, the 43-year-old Mayweather faced kickboxing star Tenshin Nasukawa in an exhibition fight.

Injuries are common in the NFL, but there is nothing conventional about how Las Vegas Raiders rookie Henry Ruggs III hurt himself.

Ruggs – the 12th pick in this year's NFL Draft – injured his thigh while helping a friend move. 

The injury is not considered serious and the Raiders are not commenting out of respect to the 21-year-old wide receiver's medical privacy. 

Ruggs' father, Henry Ruggs Jr., said his son is fine but is using crutches to avoid putting weight on the injured leg. 

"He was trying to move a trailer or something - move furniture or something - and the trailer just kind of pinned him against a car or a wall or something," Ruggs Jr. told AL.com.

"He's pretty much OK … It was just like a little open wound on his leg, a little incision. Like something had stuck him right there on his thigh a little bit." 

The first receiver selected in April's NFL Draft, Ruggs finished his three-year career at Alabama with 98 receptions for 1,716 yards. His 24 touchdown receptions are third most in program history.

 

Clemson star wide receiver Justyn Ross will have surgery on Friday and miss the 2020 season, which will almost certainly end his collegiate career.

Ross' football career could be in jeopardy after Clemson coach Dabo Swinney announced on Monday that an X-ray discovered the wideout was born with congenital fusion, which is the abnormal joining of two or more spinal bones in the neck.  

Swinney, who revealed back in March that Ross was limited during spring practices due to some lingering stinger symptoms, said doctors are concerned and there is no guarantee he can play football again. 

The 2020 season was already likely to be the last at Clemson for the 6ft 4in Ross, who has been projected as a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. 

Ross led the Tigers in 2019 with 66 receptions and finished with 865 receiving yards and eight touchdown catches.

As a freshman in 2018, he had a team-high 1,000 receiving yards and nine touchdown receptions to help Clemson capture the national title. 

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich joined the chorus of prominent voices in sport to speak up after nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice erupted following the death of George Floyd.  

Popovich, in his 24th year coaching the Spurs, pointed to a lack of leadership as a reason for an apparent decline in race relations in the United States.

"The thing that strikes me is that we all see this police violence and racism and we've seen it all before but nothing changes," Popovich told The Nation.

"That's why these protests have been so explosive. But without leadership and an understanding of what the problem is, there will never be change.  

"And white Americans have avoided reckoning with this problem forever because it's been our privilege to be able to avoid it. That also has to change."

The five-time NBA champion coach, who has previously been critical of President Donald Trump, blasted the White House's response to the protests.  

"It's unbelievable. If Trump had a brain, even if it was 99 per cent cynical, he would come out and say something to unify people. But he doesn't care about bringing people together. Even now," Popovich said.

"That's how deranged he is. It's all about him. It's all about what benefits him personally. It's never about the greater good. And that's all he's ever been."

"It's so clear what needs to be done. We need a president to come out and say simply that 'Black Lives Matter.' Just say those three words. But he won't and he can't. He can’t because it's more important to him to mollify the small group of followers who validate his insanity. 

"He's not just divisive. He's a destroyer. To be in his presence makes you die. He will eat you alive for his own purposes. I'm appalled that we have a leader who can't say 'Black Lives Matter.' That's why he hides in the White House basement. He is a coward. He creates a situation and runs away like a grade-schooler."

Popovich also criticised Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and called him "the person who really runs the country". 

While Popovich's disdain for the Trump administration has been well known, his statements to The Nation are his strongest to date.  

"It's more than just Trump. The system has to change," he said. "I'll do whatever I can do to help because that's what leaders do. But he can't do anything to put us on a positive path because he's not a leader."

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Seattle Seahawks star Russell Wilson made their first public statements since the death of George Floyd sparked protests against racially driven police brutality in the United States.

Floyd died in police custody last Monday in Minneapolis when an officer kneeled on his neck while he lay handcuffed on the ground, leading to widespread demonstrations and riots in multiple American cities.

Wilson said he fears for the lives of his children in the current climate, recalling stories he heard of the tension and violence of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, saying, "The past has never left us."

"As a stepdad to one of the most amazing kids I've ever known, a young boy with so much passion, talent, intelligence, and love for others; as a father to one of the most bright, brilliant and vibrant young girls in the world and a new baby boy on the way . . . I fear," Wilson wrote on Twitter.

"I fear for their lives just like my grandmother feared for my dad's life and the lives of her other children. I fear because of the colour of their beautiful chocolate skin.

"The video of George Floyd broke my heart. Seeing someone's life taken so cruelly makes us want to rage and lash out. 

"But then I ask myself, what would George Floyd want? He told us. He just wanted his mother. He wanted his life. He simply wanted to breathe."

Mahomes said he has been "blessed to be accepted" as a mixed-race man and hopes sports can provide a blueprint for greater racial harmony in the future.  

"The senseless murders that we have witnessed are wrong and cannot continue in our country," Mahomes said. "All I can think about is how I grew up in a locker room where people from every race, every background, and every community came together and became brothers to accomplish a single goal. 

"I hope that our country can learn from the injustices that we have witnessed to become more like the locker room where everyone is accepted. We all need to treat each other like brothers and sisters, and become something better."

Mahomes, the 2018 NFL MVP, led the Chiefs to a Super Bowl victory in February, while Wilson is a seven-time Pro Bowl selection who helped the Seahawks win the Super Bowl following the 2013 season.  

Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich met with the media on Monday and read a statement in support of the black community while addressing racial injustices experienced by African Americans. 

"Few things stir the human heart and soul like injustice," Reich said to reporters. "When we see it, feel it, experience it, it's heart-wrenching. It's not enough for a person who looks like me to say, 'I'm not racist.'

"This kind of talk and thinking, it typically lends itself to a posture of neutrality, indifference, and passivity. It's easy to be silent and do nothing, when it doesn't directly impact you. This attitude simply doesn't evoke any conviction about doing what is right, and standing up for the inherent dignity and rights of all people, no matter the colour of their skin."

Reich's comments follow a weekend of protests and riots in several American cities in the wake of the death of George Floyd. Floyd was an African American who died last Monday after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into the back of Floyd's neck while he lay handcuffed on the ground. Protesters are calling for an end of police brutality against minorities. 

"Racism is vile, deplorable, detestable," Reich said. "There's no form of it that is acceptable, and in no way can it be justified. Our black community has bore the brunt of this injustice far too long. 

"I believe that I — we — all have a personal responsibility to speak up, and to act in ways that build each other up, not tear each other down.

"I believe each one of us can make a difference if we're willing to grow personally and display the courage necessary for us to take steps of progress in this most important of issues."

The Colts released a statement regarding Floyd's death, and Reich said he supported it but also wanted to offer his personal views.   

Reich also said some Colts players have participated in peaceful protests but was not concerned about their well-being. 

"Sometimes, you have to take risks," he said.

Mercedes are opposed to reverse-grid qualifying races being introduced in Formula One this season because it could hurt Lewis Hamilton's title chances, says Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.

With the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc with F1's 2020 calendar there has been a push for a change to the qualifying format at tracks that host more than one grand prix.

Horner said the proposal of sprint races with a start order based on the reversed championship position to determine the grid for the main event on the second Sunday received "overwhelming support".

However, he believes Mercedes are seemingly unwilling to experiment with defending champion Hamilton chasing a record-equalling seventh title this year.

"I think we've got a unique situation this year, and having two races at the same venue - it would seem the perfect time to try something different at that second event," Horner told Sky Sports.

"Otherwise, with stable weather conditions, we're likely to have the same output in race two as we have in race one.

"[The proposal] seemed to get overwhelming support. The only person that wasn't particularly supportive of it was Toto because he thought it would interfere with Lewis' seventh world championship campaign, and it would be too much of a variable.

"Having races being at the same venue for two consecutive weekends would be a logical and timely place to introduce and try something.

"I think the prospect of drivers having to race through the field on the Sunday for the feature race, having to start from the back of the grid based on championship position, I think would be something really entertaining for the fans, something positive for Formula One and something we really shouldn't be afraid of trying."

The F1 season will belatedly get under way with the first race in Austria on July 5.

Steve Smith revealed he barely touched a cricket bat during lockdown, instead using the enforced break due to the coronavirus pandemic to switch off.

Cricket in Australia is preparing to kick into gear, having been suspended since March due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Former Australia captain Smith returned to training with New South Wales on Monday, along with international team-mates Mitchell Starc and David Warner.

After a gruelling year on the international and domestic fronts, Smith used the time off to focus on his fitness instead of his technique.

"I'm probably in the best shape I've been in in years, doing lots of running, lots of gym stuff at home. It's been a couple of months of good hard work," Smith said.

"I haven't touched a bat really, couple of little drills at home but that's about it. I've tried to switch off from it a little bit, which I don't do very often, but focusing on myself getting fit and strong and refreshing mentally, and when we get our chance to play again I'll be good to go.

"There are no nets or anything, so I've just been trying to switch off, I've done masterclasses at home that I've shared with a few people on Instagram and things like that.

"But other than that, I really haven't picked up my cricket bats. So it's been a bit different but I'm sure in the long run it's probably a good thing just to freshen up after what was a pretty long year, year-and-a-half."

The ICC look set to introduce a new rule to ban the use of spit to shine the ball once cricket returns, with bowlers often using saliva to assist with finding swing.

Smith suggested the rule change could hand the batting side an unfair advantage and hopes any changes to regulations maintain an even contest.

"I've always been one to want a fair contest between bat and ball, even as a batter, so if that's taken away I don't think that's great," he said. 

"Whether they can find different ways to do certain things. It'll be hard, I actually spit on my hands most balls, that's how I get grip and stuff.

"It might take some adjusting to get used to certain things like that, that's something for the ICC to figure out what they want to do going forward and making new regulations.

"We'll see where it all lands, everything is up in the air at the moment."

The president of Las Palmas believes their match against Girona on June 13 could be the first in Europe attended by fans since the coronavirus pandemic struck.

Miguel Angel Ramirez believes the minimal infection rate for COVID-19 in the Canary Islands could make it safe for fans to watch the game at Estadio Gran Canaria.

The islands of La Gomera, El Hierro and La Graciosa have received official clearance to move to Phase Three of Spain's lockdown de-escalation measures, and it is reported the larger islands that make up the chain – including Gran Canaria – could move out of Phase Two next week.

Ramirez believes such easing in social distancing measures will make it possible for fans to attend Las Palmas' first match of the resumed 2019-20 Segunda Division season.

"The Las Palmas fans will be able to attend the stadium to cheer on their team from June 13 against Girona," he told the club's official radio station.

"The Canary Islands is a safe destination. Gran Canaria is a safe destination. We can become the only stadium in the major leagues to play again with fans in the stands."

Spain was one of the worst-hit countries in Europe by the pandemic, but strict lockdown measures and a staggered release of those restrictions across autonomous regions has helped to keep infection and death rates under control in recent weeks.

LaLiga is due to resume with the derby match between Sevilla and Real Betis on June 13, although all games in the top flight are expected to be behind closed doors for the foreseeable future.

Ex-unified heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz Jr has the heart and quality to reign again according to one of his former opponents.

It is exactly a year since Ruiz and his deceptively fast hands battered Anthony Joshua to a seventh-round loss at Madison Square Garden – an outcome that was instantly ranked alongside the biggest upsets in boxing history.

However, the 30-year-old's stint as Mexico's first heavyweight champion proved short-lived, as Joshua took the IBF, WBA and WBO belts back into his possession with a lopsided points win in Saudi Arabia last December.

In the aftermath, Ruiz's focus was questioned on account of his rotund appearance. He weighed 15 lbs more than in the original encounter to top 20 stone and turned in a ineffective performance against a newly streamlined Joshua.

Indulging in the bounty from his shock triumph over Joshua is something familiar to heavyweight veteran Kevin Johnson.

Now 40, Johnson was undefeated with 22 wins and a draw from 23 career contests heading into a unanimous points loss against Vitali Klitschko in 2009.

Although he responded by winning his next six bouts, the American never returned to world title contention and is now a respected journeyman opponent – having shared rings with the likes of Joshua, Tyson Fury, Dereck Chisora, Kubrat Pulev and Ruiz himself.

Speaking to Stats Perform News, Johnson insisted boxing's big men had not heard the last of Ruiz, who he lost to over 10 rounds in 2018.

"Andy Ruiz is going to conquer again in the division. You can't sleep on him," he said.

"He made the same mistake I made after I fought Klitschko. You can't make all that money and then go and do whatever you want to do. You've got to stay focused.

"There was a rematch to come, he didn't stay focused and that's what happens. He got way more money than I got, so I can imagine!

"I know Andy, I know his pops. I love those guys. I've been out in LA with him one-on-one.

"He's one of the greatest fighters that you can ever sit down and talk to, you wouldn't even think he was a fighter. It will fool you.

"He has the greatest spirit of all fighters I know in the world."

Ruiz has frequently posted training clips on social media over recent weeks as he awaits a return to competitive action, having joined up with Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez's trainer Eddy Reynoso in the aftermath of the Joshua loss.

Johnson knows first hand that natural gifts remain – ones often overlooked when it comes to a boxer who is far from body beautiful.

"When I fought Ruiz the first four rounds were hell because I did what AJ did," he recalled.

"You can't stand and trade with a guy who's a sniper. He's fast, very fast. Don't let the weight fool you.

"Under all of that fat is a great conditioned guy – great! And fast."

As Joshua, Fury, Ruiz and the other leading lights in the heavyweight division wait for boxing in the UK and America to plot its return amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Johnson is in the unique position of having a fight date confirmed and ready to go.

He will face fellow former world title challenger Mariusz Wach at Palac w Konarach in Konary, Poland, as part of a behind-closed-doors event on June 12.

"It's going to be under a strategic, surgical eye as far as the methods and precautions are concerned," said Johnson, who has undertaken his preparations in Gelsenkirchen, Germany with trainer Christian Hiller.

"It's going to be very different to any show that's been done because of the extremes we have to go to for our safety.

"The government in Poland have approved a very strict venue. Everyone's going to get tested, even the camera crew, the referees, the judges. Everyone."

After four NBA championships, an MVP award, two scoring titles, 15 selections to the All-Star Game and All-NBA First Team honours on eight occasions, Shaquille O'Neal called time on his illustrious career on June 1, 2011.

Nine years on and the Hall of Famer remains one of the most dominant centers the league has ever seen.

After being drafted first overall in 1992 by the Orlando Magic, O'Neal was named Rookie of the Year and went on to provide the focal point of a team that reached the NBA Finals in 1995.

The Magic failed to go one better the following year and lost him to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he teamed up with Kobe Bryant and three-peated under Phil Jackson.

He was traded to the Miami Heat and won one more NBA championship there, before stints at the Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers and, finally, the Boston Celtics.

O'Neal had his jersey numbers retired by the Heat and the Lakers, while the latter also erected a statue of him outside of Staples Center.

Using Stats Perform data, we look at some of the most notable aspects of O'Neal's career.

 

Controlling the paint

From his first year in the league until 2004-05, O'Neal averaged at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game in each of those seasons. That is 13 straight and is more than anyone else in NBA history. Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon each accumulated 12 in succession.

During that run, there were 10 consecutive seasons (from 1993-94 until 2002-03) in which O'Neal averaged at least 25 points and 10 rebounds per game. Abdul Jabbar's run of nine from 1969-70 until 1977-78 is the next best.

He is one of just four players in NBA history to score more than 25,000 points and block over 2,500 shots.

A man for the big occasions

While he shared the spotlight with Bryant at the Lakers, O'Neal showed how important he was to the team when needed.

He was named the NBA Finals MVP in 2000, 2001 and 2002. The only other player to win the award in three straight years is Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan.

O'Neal also holds the record for the most offensive rebounds in postseason history, with his 866 comfortably outstripping second-placed Tim Duncan's 778.

 

Struggles from the stripe

While he may have had the beating of most opponents in the paint, O'Neal found life much harder from the free-throw line.

He was often subjected to intentional fouls, with opposing coaches looking to manage the game clock and limit his team's scoring by sending him to the stripe. The strategy was dubbed the Hack-a-Shaq.

O'Neal missed 5,317 free throws across his entire career, the second-most all time in the NBA; only Chamberlain (5,805) missed more.

Of players to have made at least 1,200 free throws in the NBA, O'Neal has the fourth-worst percentage (52.7). Chamberlain is third with a 51.1 per cent success rate, with DeAndre Jordan (47.4) second only to Andre Drummond (46.1 per cent).

O'Neal also holds the single-game record for the most free-throw attempts without making one, failing to hit any of his 11 against the Seattle SuperSonics in December 2000. He still finished the game with 26 points.

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