LONDON,. World Athletics president Sebastian Coe said Sunday that the decision to postpone this year’s Tokyo Olympics because of the coronavirus has saved athletes from “mental turmoil”.

Former Olympic champion Coe supported the move to push the Games back to 2021 and said competitors would have been placed in an impossible position if the event had been left to start on July 24 as originally scheduled.

They would have been tempted to continue training despite large parts of the world being in lockdown due the Covid-19 pandemic, which has now killed more than 31,000 people.

“We didn’t want to have the athletes in a position where they were countering government advice, maybe even breaking the law,” Coe told TalkSport on Sunday.

“And of course in the back of their minds was always that concern, it wasn’t just their own training programme, but that they ran the risk of effectively infecting themselves, their families, their kids, grandparents or parents, and we just wanted to take them out of that mental turmoil as quickly as we possibly could.

“We’re no different from everyone else out there but I think we just concluded that sport, on this occasion, had to take a back seat.” — AFP

LONDON,. Alex Marquez celebrated a first MotoGP win — even if only virtually — in a ‘#StayAtHomeGP’ esports race featuring 10 top riders including older brother and six-time world champion Marc.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic that has brought live sport to a standstill, the 23-year-old Moto2 champion is still waiting to debut in the top category after moving up to partner Marc at Repsol Honda.

The opening race in Qatar on March 8 was cancelled and all other races up to May 17 have been postponed, with more likely to be stalled.

Sunday’s light-hearted online race, with riders joining remotely, was put on by MotoGP organisers to give fans something to watch while reinforcing the message about staying safe at home.

“I am really pleased to win my first race!” joked Alex, whose brother has won the last four MotoGP titles and triumphed in 12 of last year’s 19 races with single-season point and podium records.

The Spaniard said Indonesian esports racer Putut Maulana had given him some useful tips, which he had kept to himself out of sibling rivalry.

Italian Francesco Bagnaia was second for Pramac Ducati with Yamaha’s Spaniard Maverick Vinales third in a crash-strewn race over six laps around the virtual Italian Grand Prix circuit at Mugello. Marc Marquez was fifth.

“I enjoyed it a lot and I hope everyone who watched also had a good time,” said Alex Marquez.

“Let’s hope that everyone continues to follow the advice of the doctors and scientists so that we can return to a more normal life, seeing friends and family, enjoying the outside and going racing.”

Second only to Italy in fatalities, Spain is preparing to enter its third week under near-total lockdown with most of the population housebound as the country tries to curb the virus.

Seven of Sunday’s 10 riders were Spanish.

Petronas Yamaha’s French rider Fabio Quartararo came fourth, and set the fastest lap, after starting from pole position but taking out future team mate Vinales at the first corner of a chaotic opening lap.

“You need a different style in these kinds of races so I had to adapt my strategy a little bit during the day,” commented Marc Marquez, who also crashed.

“A good time and I am really happy to be able to do something for the fans.” — Reuters

MELBOURNE,. The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) has said its decision to pull out of the 2020 Tokyo Games was unilateral and made without the knowledge of Canada or the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The AOC said last Monday it could not assemble a team for 2020 because of complications brought by the coronavirus, the announcement coming quickly after the Canada Olympic and Paralympic committees confirmed they would not send athletes.

The double-withdrawal prompted speculation that the two national Olympic committees may have acted in concert with the IOC to give the global body leverage to postpone Tokyo.

Canada on Friday denied any such arrangement, and the AOC followed suit on Monday.

“Any assertions that a decision by the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) to tell its athletes to plan for a Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021 was done in concert with either the International Olympic Committee (IOC) or the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) are completely incorrect,” the AOC said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

The AOC said its decision followed a sequence of events, which included the IOC’s announcement that the global body was conducting “scenario planning” for Tokyo, with postponement among the options.

The IOC’s announcement came a day after Australian authorities announced a slew of measures aimed at containing the coronavirus, including travel curbs and quarantine requirements at national and state borders.

“This meant our athletes could not continue their training programs,” the AOC said.

The effect of the government measures and the IOC’s scenario planning prompted a special meeting of the AOC’s executive board last Monday.

“The effect of these measures as outlined, informed the Executive’s conclusion that an Australian Olympic Team could not depart our shores for a Games at any time within the next six months, at least,” the AOC added.

“The AOC Executive considered it in the best interests of the health and safety of our athletes that they return to their homes and families as soon as possible, particularly as border closures were progressively being introduced.

“At no point were either the IOC or COC aware of, or involved in, this process.”

The IOC last Tuesday postponed the Olympics for a year after also coming under pressure from athletes, whose preparations had been disrupted.

The IOC is working with sports federations to clear a window for the Tokyo Games in the July-August of 2021, though officials have said all options are on the table. — Reuters

SINGAPORE,. Oil prices slumped in Asian trade today, tracking falls on stock markets after a sharp escalation in the coronavirus crisis over the weekend.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate fell 3.9 per cent to trade at US$20 (RM87.10) a barrel, while international benchmark Brent crude was off 4.9 per cent at US$23 a barrel.

The falls came after the death toll from the pandemic surged past 30,000 at the weekend as cases in hard-hit Europe and the United States rocketed.

Senior US scientist Anthony Fauci estimated the virus could possibly result in 100,000 to 200,000 deaths in the United States, while President Donald Trump extended “social distancing” guidelines until April 30.

The virus has infected more than 140,000 in the world’s top economy and left more than 2,400 dead.

Oil markets have been plunging for weeks as lockdowns and travel restrictions imposed by governments worldwide to fight the virus sapped demand.

Top producers Saudi Arabia and Russia are also locked in a price war, contributing to massive oversupply that is pushing down prices.

Along with global stocks, prices had clawed back some ground last week as policymakers worldwide unleashed massive stimulus measures to prop up the virus-hit global economy.

But Stephen Innes, chief global market strategist at AxiCorp, said prices had now “softened”.

This suggested “the direction of travel skews lower as markets anticipate a (second quarter) that will inevitably see a large build in inventories, as demand echoes the shutting down of major global economies”, he added. — AFP

BEIJING,. Chinese President Xi Jinping said the government will adjust support policies for small and medium-sized firms promptly as the situation develops to protect them from the impact of the coronavirus, Chinese state television reported today.

Xi also said during a Sunday visit to a factory in Ningbo, a city in the eastern Zhejiang province, that Chinese firms should actively resume operation and production even as efforts to control the coronavirus continue, according to the report. — Reuters

HONG KONG,. Hong Kong stocks opened with losses this morning as the euphoria from last week’s massive US stimulus and easing measures gave way to ongoing worries about the rapidly spreading coronavirus.

The Hang Seng Index fell 1.97 per cent, or 463.43 points, to 23,020.85.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index fell 1.63 per cent, or 45.15 points, to 2,727.05 and the Shenzhen Composite Index on China’s second exchange slipped 1.95 per cent, or 32.99 points, to 1,660.35. — AFP

KUALA LUMPUR,. Parties from both sides of the political divide must put their differences aside and unite to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Only a non-partisan approach can boost the government’s efforts to check the disease and minimise its impact on the people and the nation, said political observers.

“No matter what their personal or party agenda is, now is the time to put it aside and focus on efforts to contain the crisis,” said Prof Ahmad Martadha Mohamed, head of Governance and Integrity Cluster at the Centre of Government Studies, Universiti Utara Malaysia.

Speaking to Bernama, he said party leaders and politicians should help to disseminate accurate information to the people and appeal to them to comply with the movement control order (MCO) and follow advisories issued by the authorities, as well as their recommendations, to mitigate their exposure to the virus.

“This is the time for our politicians, no matter which party they belong to, to show their maturity by setting aside their ideologies for the sake of the people and the nation,” he said.

He said Malaysian politicians could take a leaf out of the book of their counterparts in China, the United States, United Kingdom, Iran and some European nations who have joined forces to fight the pandemic.

Strict yet gentle

Urging Malaysians to act responsibly and give their full cooperation to efforts to control the spread of Covid-19, Ahmad Martadha said although the nation is now going through an unprecedented crisis, the government has been able to handle it with its decisive yet prudent approach.

He said in the series of announcements made by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin after the enforcement of MCO, he was seen as taking the gentle approach in advising the people.

“In social media, many people commented that in his second live address on March 18, the prime minister was like a father who is advising his children to stay home and take care of their health.

“We should appreciate the gentle and prudent ways of our leaders in dealing with this disease which has now become a global menace,” he said, adding that the strategies unrolled by the nation’s experienced leaders will prove effective in managing the challenging situation prevailing in the country.

Testing times

Kolej Universiti Islam Antarabangsa Selangor senior lecturer Hairol Anuar Mak Din, meanwhile, urged politicians to use their influence in positive ways, more so now when the nation is facing testing times.

He said some politicians had questioned the government’s decisions to enforce MCO, deploy the army to help the police monitor the people’s compliance with MCO and allow workers to withdraw part of their savings from the Employees Provident Fund (EPF).

“This is the first time our government is dealing with such a crisis and controlling the spread of Covid-19 is not an easy task. The government is trying its best to bring the situation under control to ensure the safety of the people and is implementing certain initiatives to help those who have been badly hit by the crisis,” he said.

The governments of other countries like China and Italy, he added, have enforced a curfew to curb the spread of the virus.

Last Monday, Muhyiddin announced that beginning April 1, EPF contributors aged below 55 can withdraw from Account 2 a maximum of RM500 a month for a period of 12 months.

The government will also channel an additional RM130 million to the various states to help the state governments to mitigate the effects of the Covid-19crisis. Muhyiddin gave his assurance that equal allocations would be given to the states, irrespective of the parties ruling them.

“The crisis we are facing is affecting all the rakyat regardless of race, religion or political alliances,” he said. — Bernama