London (AFP) – The English Premier League suspended all fixtures until April 4 on Friday after Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi tested positive for coronavirus.
Matches in the English Football League, Women’s Super League, all football in Scotland and international friendlies for England and Wales have also been suspended.
“Following a meeting of shareholders today, it was unanimously decided to suspend the Premier League with the intention of returning on 4 April, subject to medical advice and conditions at the time,” the Premier League said in a statement.
Everton also announced a player is in self-isolation for seven days after reporting a high temperature.
The rest of their first-team squad and coaching staff have been told to stay away from all of the Merseyside club’s sites.
Leicester City had three players go into self-isolation on Thursday and Bournemouth said goalkeeper Artur Boruc and four staff members were taking the same precaution.
West Ham staff are also self-isolating as they faced Arteta’s Arsenal six days ago at the Emirates.
“Above all, we wish Mikel Arteta and Callum Hudson-Odoi speedy recoveries, and everyone else affected by COVID-19,” said Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters.
“In this unprecedented situation, we are working closely with our clubs, Government, The FA and EFL and can reassure everyone the health and welfare of players, staff and supporters are our priority.”
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp commended the decision despite it halting his side’s cruise towards a first league title in 30 years.
“We don’t want to play in front of an empty stadium and we don’t want games or competitions suspended, but if doing so helps one individual stay healthy – just one – we do it no questions asked,” he said.
The English Football League, which heads up the three divisions below the Premier League, and Women’s Super League will be suspended until April 3 at the earliest.
England’s two friendly matches at home to Italy and Denmark later this month have been postponed as have Wales games against Austria and the US.
The fifth-tier National League will continue but said in a statement it “will keep the operation of its competition under constant and diligent review, and will remain in compliance with government advice at all times.”
The authorities still hope to be able to resume and complete the season at a later date.
“Despite the challenges, it is the Premier League’s aim to reschedule the displaced fixtures, including those played by Academy sides, when it is safe to do so,” added the Premier League statement.
– ‘Lack of leadership’ –
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday the government was considering the question of banning major public events such as sporting fixtures, but was not ready to do so yet.
However, the news of Arteta and Hudson-Odoi’s positive tests in the last 24 hours forced the English football authorities to act.
“I don’t think we had any great leadership last night listening to the prime minister. I was totally underwhelmed by the lack of leadership and clear message in terms of what was said in that press conference,” said Watford manager Nigel Pearson.
Hudson-Odoi said he had already “recovered” from the virus but will continue to self-isolate.
“As you may be aware I had the virus for the last couple of days, which I’ve recovered from,” the England international posted in a video on social media.
“I’m following the health guidelines and self-isolated myself from everybody for the week. I hope to be back on the pitch very soon.”
All matches in Scotland, including Sunday’s Old Firm derby between Rangers and Celtic, have also been indefinitely suspended.
“Today’s announcement is made in the interests of public health but, equally, the health and safety of players, match officials, and staff across the game,” said Ian Maxwell, Scottish FA Chief Executive.
“It is also why the Scottish FA is compelled to ensure that the suspension is cascaded through the non-professional and grassroots games until further notice.”
UEFA, European football’s governing body, has postponed all Champions League and Europa League games for the coming week and will have a crisis meeting on Tuesday to determine the fate of those competitions and Euro 2020.
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