A cleaner wearing a protective suit sprays seats at the San Paolo stadium as part of measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak in Naples, Italy, March 4 2020. Picture: REUTERS/CIRO DE LUCA
A cleaner wearing a protective suit sprays seats at the San Paolo stadium as part of measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak in Naples, Italy, March 4 2020. Picture: REUTERS/CIRO DE LUCA

Rome — 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 that 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 that has already been hit by delays, with four previous games yet to be played.

The Italian Football Federation met on Tuesday, and the Lega Serie A will meet later in the week to try to develop a recovery plan — a plan that 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 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.

Cholera epidemic

And in 1915, it was interrupted after Italy’s entry into World War 1, with Genoa awarded the title, which Lazio still claim was tied.

In 1973, a cholera epidemic that left 227 dead in Italy, including more than 170 in Naples, did not halt play.

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. 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 media 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 semifinals, it is almost impossible for it to be completed before the summer. Meanwhile, training continues, with Uefa’s Champions League and Europa League matches taking place 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.

AFP