London (AFP) – Arsenal’s game at Manchester City on Wednesday has been postponed after players from the London club were put into quarantine, making it the first Premier League football fixture to be called off because of coronavirus.
Arsenal said players and four staff had been isolated at their homes after coming into contact with the owner of Greek club Olympiakos, Vangelis Marinakis, who has since tested positive for COVID-19.
“We are strictly following the government guidelines which recommend that anyone coming into close contact with someone with the virus should self-isolate at home for 14 days from the last time they had contact,” an Arsenal statement said.
“As a result, the players are unavailable for tonight’s (Wednesday’s) match against Manchester City and the Premier League has decided the game should be postponed.”
The first postponement in the Premier League, which has a global following, follows widespread disruption to football and other sports across the world.
Arsenal were knocked out of the Europa League by Olympiakos on February 27. Marinakis, owner of the Greek club and English side Nottingham Forest, announced on Tuesday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.
But Arsenal said the players and staff, who met Marinakis after the game at the Emirates Stadium, will return to work on Friday ahead of Saturday’s trip to Brighton.
Manchester City’s England full-back Kyle Walker said it was the sensible decision to postpone the game at City’s Etihad Stadium.
“As a player you always want games to go ahead, but in this case the health and safety of the fans has to be put first as without you guys, we wouldn’t have the beautiful game!” he tweeted, and wished Marinakis a “speedy recovery”.
Olympiakos players, staff and board members have all tested negative, the club said.
Nottingham Forest also said none of their players had tested positive.
“The club took swift action to arrange tests for the entire first-team players, staff and officers that came into contact with the owner last week,” the club added.
The Premier League called the move a “precautionary measure” and said there were no plans to postpone any other games.
Arsenal’s opponents on Saturday, relegation-threatened Brighton, said that game was still scheduled to go ahead “following consultation with the Premier League and medical advisors”.
The postponement of the Manchester City v Arsenal game means Liverpool’s hopes of winning their first Premier League title since 1990 without kicking a ball have been dashed.
However, should City lose to Burnley on Saturday Jurgen Klopp’s side can secure the title on Monday with the added spice of doing so by beating city rivals Everton.
– ‘We’re not happy to go’ –
The Football Association, though, could reportedly take a financial hit.
The FA have no insurance covering public health epidemics or what are deemed “acts of God”, the Daily Mail said.
So if they are forced to cancel matches — which seems the likely scenario for the high-profile friendly with Italy on March 27 — or play them behind closed doors, it will cost them an estimated £3 million ($3.9 million) a game.
The semi-finals and final of Euro 2020 are due to be played at Wembley in July but the FA would not be liable were they cancelled as that would fall under UEFA’s remit.
The spread of coronavirus has already had a dramatic impact on sport elsewhere in Europe. Serie A football and all other sports have been put on hold in Italy, while the top two divisions in Spain and France will be played in empty stadiums for at least the next two weeks.
Champions League and Europa League games have been forced behind closed doors as the epidemic spreads. However, Liverpool’s last 16 second leg match against Atletico Madrid at Anfield on Wednesday will be played with a crowd.
But when Olympiakos host Wolves in Athens in the Europa League on Thursday, it will be in an empty stadium in common with many other last-16 games in that competition.
Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo has joined a number of managers in voicing disquiet at being asked to play without fans.
“If we have to go we will. But we don’t agree — we’re not happy to go,” he told Sky Sports.
“Behind closed doors doesn’t make sense,” he added. “We’re pretending to live a normal life when things aren’t normal.”
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