Milan (AFP) – Inter Milan coach Antonio Conte said Wednesday it “wasn’t nice” being forced to play upcoming Europa League and Serie A games behind closed doors because of the growing coronavirus epidemic in Italy.

Inter host Bulgarian side Ludogorets in the Europa League round of 32, second leg at an empty San Siro on Thursday, before travelling to play Juventus in Turin on Sunday for an Italian league clash also without fans.

“It’s not nice, because in the end football needs the public and to feel the atmosphere around it. The atmosphere is the most beautiful thing,” Conte told Sky Sport Italia.

“Having said that, we defer to the decisions made by the health authorities. I hope that everything will return to normal as soon as possible.”

Towns in the north of Italy are in lockdown because of the spread of the virus where there have been 400 confirmed cases and 12 people have died.

Ludogorets’ players and staff arrived in Milan on Wednesday in protective facemasks, with many also wearing gloves.

Inter take a 2-0 lead into the game against the Bulgarians, as they target a last-16 place having crashed out of the Champions League in the group stage.

“Inter Milan is adopting all the necessary precautionary and preventive measures to protect the players and staff,” the Italian club said in a statement.

“The club has shown its full commitment in taking appropriate action, such as closing the hospitality areas and cancelling all activities that would have meant the gathering of people, in order to ensure that the match can take place safely.”

Inter are third in Serie A, six points behind leaders Juventus, after their match last weekend against Sampdoria was postponed.

The clash in Turin will not be the only game this weekend played behind closed doors. The others are Udinese hosting Fiorentina on Saturday; AC Milan at home to Genoa, Parma against SPAL and Sassuolo at home to Brescia on Sunday; and Sampdoria versus Hellas Verona on Monday.

Juventus fans have been allowed to travel to French club Lyon for Wednesday’s Champions League last 16, first leg clash.

– Rugby hit hard –

Italy’s Six Nations match with Italy in Dublin on March 7 has been postponed and their game against England in Rome on March 14 at risk.

Italy’s Rugby Federation (FIR) has cancelled all matches the weekend, as well as all gatherings of national teams.

Pro14 rugby union’s two matches involving Italian clubs — Zebre against Welsh club Ospreys in Parma and Treviso against Irish side Ulster — have been postponed.

“The Federation will continue to work alongside national and local authorities and will cooperate to ensure the application of the correct measures in order to ensure the containment of the epidemiological emergency to protect public health, members and their families,” FIR said in a statement.

“FIR invites all the affiliated companies and members … to respect the indications regarding the containment of the emergency.”