Italy suspends sports events as leagues worldwide take action over coronavirus
Italy has taken further action to deter the spread of coronavirus by suspending all domestic sport until at least 3 April.
The announcement was made by prime minister Giuseppe Conte on Monday, and followed a recommendation from Coni, the Italian Olympic committee, in the European country that has been most affected by the outbreak.
The decision affects all matches in Serie A, the top soccer league, which had already declared that all fixtures would be played without spectators until the aforementioned date.
Games involving Italian teams in European club competitions are set to go ahead, but behind closed doors.
Other European leagues have also introduced measures to address coronavirus, with France's Ligue 1 ordering that all matches be played without fans, or with a maximum attendance of 1,000 people, until 15 April, and Spain's LaLiga announcing that there will be no fans at fixtures for the next two weeks following a directive from the CSD, the High Council of Sports, while the German Bundesliga games between Borussia Mönchengladbach and Cologne on Wednesday and between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke on Saturday will be spectator-free.
Tomorrow's second leg of the Uefa Champions League tie between Paris Saint-Germain and Dortmund is taking place behind closed doors, but RMC Sport, the pay-television broadcaster owned by Altice, does not plan to make the game available free-to-air. There will also be no spectators at tonight's Champions League game between Valencia of Spain and Italy's Atalanta.
The virus outbreak is also having an impact in North America, with the MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS saying in a joint statement yesterday that while games were not being suspended, locker rooms would be temporarily limited to players and essential staff, without the the traditional access afforded to the media.
Meanwhile, in Japan, Nippon Professional Baseball has announced it is delaying the start of its season, and table tennis' ITTF World Tour Japan Open, which was due to take place in Kitakyushu in the south of the country on 21 to 26 April, has been postponed.
The coronavirus originated in China, but there have so far been over 9,000 cases and more than 450 deaths in Italy, and the suspension of sport forms part of a national lockdown, with the extension of quarantine measures, including a ban on public gatherings, from the north to the whole of the country.
The announcement came just after kick-off in last night’s Serie A game between Sassuolo and Brescia, held behind closed doors, and the match was played to a conclusion.
Italian sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora had been critical of the Italian soccer authorities for continuing with fixtures amid the emergency, saying at the weekend it was “irresponsible" in the current climate.
The outbreak has also had an impact off the pitch in Serie A with a scheduled meeting to discuss future media rights strategy postponed from 12 to 16 March.
This Thursday’s Lega Serie A assembly in Milan, to be held via video conference, will now be entirely dedicated to the coronavirus situation.
The whole part of the agenda relating to media rights will now be the subject of a second meeting, to take place under similar conditions, at noon next Monday. The main issue is Spanish media rights and production company’s Mediapro’s offer of €1.283 billion ($1.45 billion) per season to operate an in-house television channel for the league in the cycle from 2021-22 to 2023-24.
The virus had already prompted the postponement of Italy’s matches away to Ireland and at home to England in rugby union’s Six Nations, and next Saturday's France vs Ireland game was added to the list yesterday.
Other major events that have been postponed or cancelled over recent days include the Indian Wells tennis tournament in USA, ice hockey’s IIHF Women’s World Championship in Canada, and alpine skiing’s World Cup finals and World Rowing Cup and Olympic and Paralympic Games rowing qualifying events in Italy.
The cancellation of Indian Wells, which was due to start on Wednesday, after an outbreak in Southern California, has prompted talk that the Miami Open, the next prominent tennis event, could be in doubt.
However, the organisers said yesterday that it was "moving forward as scheduled" for 23 March to 5 April, while the sport's governing bodies are keeping a watching brief.
Andrea Gaudenzi, the chairman of the men's ATP, said: "While we regret that the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells will not take place, the ATP Tour calendar beyond Indian Wells remains as status quo. We continue to monitor the situation daily, working closely with our player and tournament members with the understanding that direction must be taken from local public health authorities.
"We are committed to exploring all options for the operation of upcoming tournaments as the health and safety of our players and all other stakeholders remain our top priority. Any further updates will be communicated on ATP platforms."
The International Olympic Committee and the local organising committee continue to insist that the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will proceed as planned in July and August although the traditional lighting of the Olympic flame in Olympia in Greece this week will take place without spectators.
In a statement, Tokyo 2020 said it was "committed to delivering a safe and secure torch relay."