Sport fears chaos as freeze bites

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The Independent Online
NICK DUXBURY and DAVE HADFIELD

Sport was confronting the prospect of major disruption to the weekend programme today as the weather showed no sign of releasing its grip.

Football, rugby union and rugby league were all expecting to lose games to frozen pitches, with racing again wiped out today and tomorrow's meetings already falling by the wayside.

In the Premiership, the matches at Aston Villa and West Ham United look vulnerable, but only three games in the Scottish League (Rangers v Hibs, Dundee United v Airdrie and Queen's Park v Ross County) have any chance of surviving.

A delay in the resumption of rugby union's Courage League programme could provoke a club v country controversy. All tomorrow's five League One matches look set to be postponed, with club officials pencilling in the blank date of 13 January to re-stage them. However, that would cut across England's Five Nations' Championship plans, with the squad having warm-weather training abroad that weekend in their preparations to play France in Paris on 20 January.

Already Moseley's investment in a pounds 1,000 pitch cover has failed to save their two most lucrative games of the season. The club lost pounds 6,000 when the Boxing Day derby with Coventry was called off and tomorrow's League Two game against leaders Northampton - expected to bring in pounds 25,000 - is off.

Plans to salvage tomorrow's rugby league Regal Trophy semi-final between St Helens and Warrington by switching it to Wigan's heated pitch were scuppered when the local police declared they unable to supervise the match at short notice.

With Saints' Knowsley Road ground described as unplayable yesterday and no thaw in sight, efforts are now being laid to play the match next Thursday.

The broader weather picture is also causing concern in rugby league, with the New Year's Eve and New Year's Day programmes under threat and an overwhelming log-jam of fixtures building up.

The game's final winter season is due to end on 21 January, but Wigan still have four league matches, plus a semi-final and possibly the final of the Regal Trophy to play in a little over three weeks. Warrington, Halifax, Bradford and Oldham - the latter three arguably the coldest grounds in the league - have five league matches to play.

A blank week for British jumping enthusiasts looks the most likely bet after all today's race meetings were abandoned.

Tomorrow's meeting at Nottingham has already been abandoned and there will be inspections today at Catterick (8.30am), Newbury (9.30) and Folkestone (noon). A total of 24 meetings have now been lost this week with only Wolverhampton's double-header on sand tomorrow breaking the gloom.

One sport which is certain to beat the freeze is the BUPA International Cross-Country event at Durham tomorrow. Heavy snow had put the meeting, which is part of the World Cross-Country Challenge circuit, in doubt, but an inspection yesterday gave the all-clear.

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