There will be no Serie A matches taking place for the next month. (LaPresse via AP: Piero Cruciatti)
All sport in Italy has been suspended until at least April 3 because of the coronavirus outbreak, including games in the country’s top-flight football division, Serie A and Six Nations rugby union matches.
- Serie A matches in Italy have been suspended until April 3
- Champions League matches involving teams from Italy will still take place
- Cycling events and Six Nations rugby matches also postponed
The prime minister Guiseppe Conte told Italians to “stay at home” in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus across the county.
“There’s no reason for the games to continue,” Conte said.
“The fans will have to deal with it. We won’t even allow gyms to be used.”
A new government decree that will come into effect Tuesday and last until April 3 will stop games in Italy’s top soccer division and preparatory events for the Tokyo Olympics.
Italy has seen the largest outbreak of the virus in Europe, with more than 7,000 confirmed infections and 463 deaths.
Vincenzo Spadafora, Italy’s sports minister, had earlier described Italian football officials as being “irresponsible” for allowing games to continue in the midst of the crisis.
Italy’s top soccer division continued as normal on Sunday, albeit with five games played in empty stadiums, including the top-of-the-table Derby D’Italia between Juventus and Inter Milan.
Juventus beat Inter Milan in the Derby D’Italia, but there was nobody there to see it. (Reuters: Massimo Pinca)
The Italian players union, the AIC, also criticised the move to allow games to go ahead this weekend.
“The signals that the sporting institutions are sending out are terrible,” a statement released by the body read.
“It’s dangerous to travel to and from the red zones, it’s dangerous to play football, it’s dangerous to shake hands.
“The teams went out and played today unfortunately out of a sense of duty towards those who don’t have the courage to decide that football isn’t an exception when it comes to the coronavirus.”
Twelve rounds of the season remain, with eight-time defending champion Juventus holding a one-point lead over Lazio.
Serie A has not had a season cancelled since World War II.
Anticipating the government’s decree, the Italian Olympic Committee said earlier that the decree will not include international competition “for clubs or national teams,” since it does not govern those. Juventus, Napoli and Atalanta are each competing in the Champions League, while Inter Milan and Roma are still in the Europa League.
But after Conte’s announcement, it seemed likely that games like Juventus-Lyon in the Champions League on March 17 would have to be postponed or moved to another country.
The Italian swimming federation said it was withdrawing its teams from international events and cancelled an Olympic qualifying meet scheduled for next week in Riccione.
Atalanta’s upcoming Champions League match against Valencia at the Mestalla Stadium in Spain will take place behind closed doors on Wednesday morning AEDT.
Serie A had been playing matches behind closed doors, but the league is now suspended. (AP: Antonio Calanni)
Six Nations matches suspended, cycling events cancelled
The virus also forced the postponement of the Six Nations rugby match between France and Ireland.
French sports minister Roxana Maracineanu said the decision to postpone was taken after discussions with tournament organisers and the French rugby federation.
The game was due to take place on Saturday at the Stade de France. A new date has yet to be announced.
Ireland’s previous match in the competition against Italy, set to be played in Dublin last weekend, was also suspended.
The last time the Six Nations faced a suspension of matches occurred in 2001, when Ireland’s matches against England, Wales and Scotland were postponed until September and October due to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.
In cycling, three Italian road races have been cancelled, including the first one-day classic of the season, Milan-San Remo.
If it is unable to be rescheduled, it will be the first time one of cycling’s five monuments has been cancelled since 1945.
The Strade Bianchi was postponed last weekend after organisers confirmed they would be unable to meet restrictions set by the Italian government around holding sporting events, followed by the Tirreno-Adriatico.
The Paris-Nice stage race is currently taking place, although seven World Tour teams have pulled out, citing concerns over the virus.
The first grand tour of the season, the Giro d’Italia, is scheduled to start on May 9.
The Milan-San Remo cycling classic attracts big crowds and is the first of cycling’s five monument races. (AP: Alessandro Trovati, File)
Crowds limited to 1,000 in France, no restrictions in Britain
In France, police said that the Champions League match between Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund at Parc des Princes will be played without fans.
It is the second of the four matches in the competition this week to be played in an empty stadium. Spanish authorities previously recommended restrictions on games involving teams from areas in Italy with high numbers of virus cases and said the Valencia-Atalanta match on Tuesday will take place without fans in attendance.
Leipzig’s match against Tottenham on Tuesday and Liverpool’s home game against Atletico Madrid on Wednesday are expected to be played with fans.
France has banned gatherings of more than 1,000 people. The country reported 1,126 cases of the virus as of Sunday, up 19 per cent from the day before and the second largest number of cases in Europe after Italy. So far, 19 people in France have died.
In Germany, it will be up to local authorities to decide if fans can attend matches this weekend in the top two divisions, the league’s organisers said.
Last weekend’s Bundesliga matches ahead as planned with fans, though Borussia Monchengladbach refunded tickets for supporters from an area affected by the virus after asking them not to attend the game.
Fans have not yet been banned from EPL matches due to the coronavirus outbreak. (AP: Alastair Grant)
Local authorities in the Swiss city of Basel refused permission for the city’s soccer team to host Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League on March 19. UEFA has not yet confirmed a venue for the match.
Even the flame-lighting ceremony for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is being affected. Spectators will be kept away from the event in Ancient Olympia on Thursday, the Greek Olympic committee. Only 100 accredited guests will be allowed to attend.
No restrictions on sport have been introduced yet in Britain, where governing bodies and broadcasters met with government officials on Monday to discuss contingency plans if fans need to be banned from events or games are postponed.
But the English Football Association on Monday cancelled an annual gathering for its staff of around 800 that was due to be held on Thursday at St. George’s Park, a hotel and training facility complex in central England.
Socceroos matches postponed, Asian sports leagues affected
The Socceroos are on top of their World Cup qualifying pool with four wins from four. (AFP: Saeed Khan)
World Cup qualifying games in Asia were formally postponed until at least September, FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation said Monday, but matches could still go ahead on schedule if all relevant parties agree.
The Socceroos were meant to host Kuwait on March 6 in Perth, before that game was suspended.
The ruling means that the away trip to Nepal (March 31), followed by home qualifiers against Chinese Taipei and Jordan in June, have also been postponed.
In the Asian Champions League, Perth Glory’s home tie against Korean side Ulsan Hyundai on March 18 has been postponed.
The Korean league has been suspended indefinitely, as has the Chinese Super league and Japanese J-League.
Japanese officials also postponed the start of the 12-team professional baseball league season.
The season was to open on March 20. Japan’s professional league had been playing its preseason games without fans because of the virus.
“I personally believe that we have no choice but to postpone at this stage,” Japanese league commissioner Atsushi Saito said.