UFC's Dana White says coronavirus testing will decide when fans can attend sports events

UFC president said President Trump held 'fascinating' call with sports executives about how to return to play

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UFC President Dana White said his recent calls with President Trump and other top U.S. league executives provided a clear indication of what it will take for pro sports to return with fans in attendance during the coronavirus pandemic.

After a weeks-long hiatus, UFC will return to live action in early May with three fight cards over an eight-day period, all of which will take place without fans at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Florida. White, who is one of several sports figures named to Trump’s advisory group on efforts to reopen the economy, said authorities will need fast, accurate tests for COVID-19 to allow sporting events to proceed with any kind of live crowd.

“I think what we’ve seen with this thing going on, how fast these guys have been able to come up with different types of tests, whether it’s the test for COVID-19, whether it’s the antibody test. I think the testing thing is moving really quickly,” White told FOX Business. “The president told us on a call that they’re close to having this test where it’s a tab, like a tab of paper, and you lick it and it tells you whether you have it or not. If testing gets that good, I think that’s when you can start having fans come back again.”

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White’s comments echoed views expressed by Trump himself at recent press briefings as well as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases. Fauci said earlier this month that sports leagues such as MLB and the NBA, which have missed weeks of scheduled games, would likely have to play without fans or with limited crowds adhering to social distancing rules in order to return this year.

Trump struck an optimistic tone when speaking to the advisory group, talking to executives about the role sports could play in bolstering the moods of Americans after weeks of self-quarantine and economic uncertainty, according to White.

“I’m not just saying this because he’s my friend, but I think the president did a great job with these calls. What a unique, cool experience,” White said. “I actually let my kids, my two sons, sit in on the call. You had the head of all the sports leagues giving their opinions on what’s going on, what they think we’re going to need to get back open, concerns, ideas. I thought the call was fascinating. I thought it was very helpful and a very cool thing to be a part of.”

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UFC 249, the mixed martial arts promotion’s next pay-per-view event, will take place May 9, weeks after White had originally intended.

The longtime UFC president battled for weeks to hold the fight card on April 18 at the Tachi Palace Casino Resort in Lemoore, California, despite mounting pushback from lawmakers and officials who raised questions about health risks. White, who was adamant that UFC had taken all necessary precautions, canceled the event only after top executives at ESPN, UFC’s main media partner, asked him to stand down.

Valentina Shevchenko of Kyrgyzstan and UFC President Dana White shake hands after her TKO victory during the UFC 247 event at Toyota Center on Feb. 8, 2020, in Houston, Texas. (Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

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The fight against coronavirus has shown progress in recent days, with hard-hit states such as New York showing a decline in hospitalizations. Several other states, including Georgia and Florida, are either already in the process of reopening or will be within the next week.

Calls with the White House and other executives showed that sports leagues are ready to play a leading role in the recovery, according to White.

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“Let’s get sports back first and then we can start figuring out, how do we get people back to work, how do we get kids back to school, which is what I’ve been saying since day one,” White said. “Instead of panicking, freaking out and hiding, some people need to stand up and figure out solutions. How do we fix this? I don’t know if normal is ever going to be normal again, but let’s get back to some type of normal.

“I think that was really the feeling of the call. The president is saying, listen, we have to be conscientious, we have to be safe and we have to figure it out, but there’s a way to do this.”

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