Italian government stops play in Serie A over coronavirus crisis

Rome (AFP) – Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Monday announced that the country’s top-flight Serie A football league, along with all sporting events in the country, will be suspended until April 3 as Italy grapples with the coronavirus crisis.

Monday’s Serie A game between Sassuolo and Brescia went ahead behind closed doors in Reggio Emilia, with the home side winning 3-0 a match which will be the final one for a month.

After scoring his opening goal Sassuolo’s Italian striker Francesco Caputo held up a handwritten message on piece of paper, urging fans: “Everything will be fine. Stay at home.”

A few hours later, the Italian Prime Minister used the same words when unveiling a decree which will come into force on Tuesday. 

“I am going to sign a decree that can be summarised as follows: I stay at home,” Conte announced in a dramatic evening television address.

The unprecedented measures covering the entire Mediterranean nation of more than 60 million people were announced after Italy reported 97 more deaths that took its toll to 463.

Among the planned measures, such as the closure of schools and universities across the country, also includes the suspension of sports competitions.

“There is no reason why matches and sporting events should continue and I am thinking of the football championship,” said Conte.

“I’m sorry but all the tifosi (fans) must take note of it,” he added.

The Italian head of government has not directly mentioned the cases of the Champions League or Europa League matches planned in Italy in the coming weeks, or other sports. 

In the Champions League, Juventus are due to host Lyon in the last 16, second leg on March 17 in Turin. 

In the Europa League, Inter Milan welcome Getafe on Thursday while AS Roma will host Sevilla on March 19.

Earlier Monday, Italy’s Olympic Committee (CONI), which has authority over all Italian sports federations, had recommended that “all sporting activities at all levels” be suspended until April 3 to help contain the contagion.

CONI specified that a new government decree was necessary to be able to apply this request. 

The decree in question, which goes far beyond sport and provides for draconian new measures to combat the coronavirus, will come into force on Tuesday throughout Italy, the second most affected country after China. 

Since Sunday, there had been growing calls to stop sports competitions and in particular Serie A. 

Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora called for the suspension of Serie A while Italian Footballers’ Association president Damiano Tommasi tweeted that “stopping football is the most useful thing for our country right now”.

On Monday several Italian federations, such as that of swimming and winter sports, announced the end of competitive activities.

Serie A is frozen with Juventus top of the standings one point ahead of Lazio. Inter Milan are third, eight points behind, with a game in hand.

The questions remains when the Serie A season can be finished with Euro 2020 set to begin on June 12, although there are concerns that the Euros, which are spread across 12 countries might also be cancelled. 

In 1973, the cholera epidemic which left 227 dead in Italy, including more than 170 in Naples, did not stop ‘calcio’ in the football-mad country.

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