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Volume 6 No. 265

Leagues and Governing Bodies

The WTA Tour will move its season-ending WTA Finals to Shenzhen, China next year in a 10-year deal the circuit describes as a nearly $1BM transaction and the largest one ever in women’s sports. Shenzhen and the Gemdale Corp. will build a downtown, nearly $500M indoor tennis venue, with prize money starting at $14M annually, nearly double the amount to be awarded this November in Singapore. The main venue will hold up to 15,000. “This is a major infusion of new capital, and that is huge for us because it gives us the chance to really grow the sport,” said Micky Lawler, the WTA president who negotiated the contract. Steve Simon, the WTA CEO, in a statement, said, “This will easily be the largest and most significant WTA Finals deal in the 45 years since the WTA was founded.”

IN THE DETAILS: Many of the details remain to be sorted out, Lawler said, like, how much the WTA will receive for promotional and marketing purposes. The WTA will open an office in Shenzhen, too, and it's uncertain if that means the WTA would close its Beijing office. Lawler: “It shows our full commitment to China, and China’s commitment to us.” The WTA currently has nine events in China, including one in Shenzhen in January. The fate of that event is unclear. The WTA has 54 events globally, not including the four Grand Slams. Lawler said there are no outs in the 10-year deal because Gemdale, a leading Chinese real estate firm, needed that commitment to justify the capital spend.  Shenzhen is near Hong Kong, and a WTA release going out Wednesday describes it as a metropolis with 68 million people.

The County Championship "could be split into three conferences -- with promotion and relegation scrapped" -- under proposals put to the England & Wales Cricket Board, according to Elizabeth Ammon of the LONDON TIMES. Officials from six counties said that they would be in favor of the "radical overhaul" that would introduce six-team conferences, with 10 group matches and playoffs to determine a champion. Although no formal discussions have taken place, the issue has reportedly been raised with ECB CEO Tom Harrison and will be discussed again when the ECB meets the county chairs and CEOs over the next few months. The three conferences "could either be regional or drawn randomly each year as the one-day competition groups used to be." There is also a belief among most county execs that the £1.3M ($1.8M) each club will receive when the £1.1B ($1.52B) broadcasting deal starts in '20 -- to coincide with the new domestic T20 franchise tournament -- will help the non-test match counties. This is because smaller clubs, which do not have large debts to pay off, "will have more money to spend on wages" (LONDON TIMES, 1/17).

Cricketer Ben Stokes has been allowed to resume his int'l career "partly because the England & Wales Cricket Board feared being sued for restraint of trade if he remained on suspension indefinitely," according to Nick Hoult of the London TELEGRAPH. Stokes was on Wednesday cleared to play for England again and is "expected to join the team in New Zealand next month" for the second half of a Twenty20 tri-series. The ECB's exec board made its decision "over the course of several teleconference calls," with disagreement among the 14 members over the way forward. But the senior exec of ECB Chair Colin Graves, ECB CEO Tom Harrison and England Cricket Dir Andrew Strauss "were unanimous that he should be made available for selection, once they heard legal advice." There was also "pressure" from the England team management, which is "keen to have Stokes back playing again" after losing the Ashes without him. When Stokes said on Tuesday that he intends to fight to "clear my name," it signaled he would plead not guilty and opt for trial at Crown Court. The ECB's lawyers warned it could take up to 18 months for the trial to reach Crown Court and "suspending him for that long might lead to legal action for restraint of trade by Stokes" (TELEGRAPH, 1/17).

Former McLaren Formula 1 Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh is returning to F1 to "help find ways to reduce costs," according to Andrew Benson of the BBC. FIA said that Whitmarsh "had been invited in as a temporary consultant" to help define "regulations for fair and sustainable competition." He has been out of the sport "since being ousted from his role as McLaren team principal" by former mentor Ron Dennis in '14. Whitmarsh was a "leading figure in the last attempt in F1 to control costs." Liberty Media "is keen to find a way to limit costs for teams as one way of closing up competition in the sport" (BBC, 1/17).

Moves to amend the Rules of Racing will begin next week when the British Horseracing Authority meets to discuss "the fallout from recent high-profile disciplinary cases involving Philip Hobbs and Hughie Morrison." Hobbs avoided sanction after an antihistamine was found in one of his horses and the BHA lost an appeal, while Morrison received only a £1,000 ($1,390) fine after a steroid was discovered in a urine sample in a mare that he trains (LONDON TIMES, 1/17).

European Professional Club Rugby opened an investigation into the comments made by Top14 side Toulon Owner Mourad Boudjellal when he "defended Mathieu Bastareaud following the French international's homophobic remarks" (REUTERS, 1/16).