Rome (AFP) – Only the gunfire of two World Wars had previously stopped “calcio” in football-mad Italy.
But from Tuesday all sporting events in the Mediterranean country, including the top-flight Serie A league, will be suspended for a month because of the coronavirus crisis.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte made the dramatic announcement as the nation grapples with a disease which has killed 463 people and prompted the government to restrict movement for its 60 million citizens.
The suspension until April 3 amounts to the postponement of two championship days, in a league which has already been hit by delays, with four previous games yet to be played.
The Italian Football Federation meets on Tuesday, and the Lega Serie A later in the week to try and develop a recovery plan.
A plan which could only be effective if the championship resumes in April, which will depend on the evolution of the epidemic.
“I’m not an optimist, unfortunately,” said AC Milan president Paolo Scaroni, whose club donated 250,000 euros ($294,000) on Monday for the care of patients in their Lombardy region, hardest hit by the contagion.
“So many of us are involved in football that there is a real risk of contagion. Even if it is true that nobody is as monitored as the players.”
Club CEO Ivan Gazidis added: “There are things in life more important than football. We must all act with the utmost responsibility and listen to the advice of the relevant authorities.”
Since 1898, only the dark days of two World Wars had stopped Serie A — between 1916 and 1919 and from 1943 to 1945.
And in 1915 it was interrupted following Italy’s entry into the First World War, with Genoa awarded the title which Lazio still claim was tied.
In 1973 a cholera epidemic which left 227 dead in Italy, including more than 170 in Naples, did not halt play.
– Euro 2020 dilemma –
Even if competition resumes in early April, time is running out with the end of the season scheduled for May 24.
There is little room for manoeuvre because of Euro 2020 beginning on June 12.
And there are also concerns that the European tournament, due to be hosted across 12 countries with Italy hosting the opening match, might face an unprecedented cancellation.
The Italian press have speculated of a possible reduction of the time allocated to teams to prepare before Euro 2020.
As for the Italian Cup, interrupted after the first leg of the semi-finals, it is almost impossible for it to be completed before the summer.
In the meantime, training continues, along with UEFA’s Champions League and Europa League matches behind closed doors.
The government decree allows for the possibility of organising matches under international jurisdiction in empty stadiums, such as ties in UEFA’s Champions League and Europa League.
Juventus are due to host Lyon in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie in Turin next week. Inter Milan are due to host Spain’s Getafe in the Europa League on Thursday while Roma welcome Sevilla a week later.
There is a kind of legal vacuum. Neither the statutes of the federation nor those of the League provide for the case of an interrupted championship, and precedents are extremely rare.
There is also the problem of who qualifies for next season’s European competitions, and which teams are relegated.
According to the Italian sports press, the hypothesis of validating a final classification on the last full day of play, the 24th round of 38 games, does not suit many clubs.
In that case Juventus would be crowned champions of Italy for a ninth consecutive season.
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