Coronavirus: European football leagues go behind closed doors as epidemic rises

Coronavirus chaos continues to affect NZ athletes preparing for the Tokyo Olympics, with rowers the latest to fall foul of the epidemic.

On Wednesday, World Rowing confirmed two World Cup regattas in Italy had been cancelled, with New Zealand crews scheduled to compete in the second.

The first regatta was scheduled for Sabaudia and the second at Varese, but with Italy now in a full lockdown, World Rowing said both were no longer feasible.

"The health and safety of the athletes and all other participants, as well as the general public, are the priorities of all parties involved in the organisation of these events.

"We have all realised the multitude of issues that would prevent teams from travelling to Italy, including the travel restrictions being imposed by an increasing number of national authorities, mandatory and voluntary quarantine periods, and lack of medical coverage for coronavirus in some countries.

"These factors, amongst others, would have likely limited the participation of member federations in the events scheduled in Italy in April and May 2020.

"We understood that prompt and decisive action was sought and needed in order to minimise the negative financial impacts on all stakeholders, given a pragmatic analysis of the situation."

The third regatta in Switzerland in late May, which doubles as a final Olympic qualifier, is still scheduled to take place.

English Premier League issues first postponement

Manchester City's clash with Arsenal on Thursday (NZ time) has become the first EPL fixture impacted by coronavirus precautions.

Arsenal announced that due to contact with Olympiakos owner Evangelos Marinakis - who has contracted the virus - in a Europa League match 13 days ago, the game would be postoned until further notice, while all players would be quarantined.

"The medical advice we have received puts the risk of them developing Covid-19 at extremely low," the club said in a statement. 

"However, 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.

The players will remain at their homes until the 14-day period expires. Four Arsenal staff, who were sitting close to Mr Marinakis during the match will also remain at home until the 14 days are complete."

European football leagues shut doors on fans

Barcelona star Leo Messi
Barcelona star Leo Messi Photo credit: Reuters

La Liga matches will be played without fans for at least the next two rounds in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the Spanish league said on Wednesday (NZ time).

Barcelona also said their Champions League clash with Napoli next week would be played behind closed doors, while Valencia's game with Atalanta will also take place without any supporters.

The decision was taken in conjunction with the Spanish government's sports council (CSD) decision that professional and non-professional sports events and competitions should take place behind closed doors.

"After consultation with the National Sports Council, La Liga Santander and La Liga SmartBank [Spain's second tier] will play matches behind closed doors, starting today and for at least the next two weeks," said a La Liga statement.

"La Liga will stay in permanent contact with the Ministry of Health and the Sports Council to address recommendations and take decisions, putting the health of fans, players, club employees and journalists first."

The first match affected will be the clash between Eibar and Real Sociedad at Ipurua Municipal Stadium, a game already postponed from February 17 (NZ time) due to air contamination.

If the measure is not extended, the next round of matches with supporters will take place on the weekend of April 5-6 (NZ time).

French league follows suit

All Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 soccer matches until April 16 (NZ time) will be played without spectators amid the coronavirus outbreak.

On Sunday, France banned gatherings of more than 1000, in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 1400 and killed 30.

"This decision is in strict application of the ministerial order published on March 10," the Ligue de Football Professionnel said.

French authorities had already said that this week's Champions League last-16 return leg against Borussia Dortmund would be played behind closed doors as the spread of the coronavirus is taking its toll on European football.

Lille hosted Olympique Lyonnais in front of more than 40,000 fans on Monday (NZ time), but RC Lens's Ligue 2 home game against Orleans on Tuesday (NZ time) was played in an empty stadium.

Italian league may be cancelled

Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo Photo credit: Getty

Meanwhile, the Italian football federation (FIGC) has admitted  that the Serie A season might not finish due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The FIGC confirmed that Serie A would stop until at least April 5 (NZ time), following a government decree.

President Gabriele Gravina had put forward several alternatives in case the championship could not be concluded, including play-offs to decide the title and relegation to Serie B.

Another option would be to declare the current standings to be final - with Juventus winning the title - and a third would be to not have a champion side this season.

Other sporting events affected by the coronavirus epidemic this week, include:

  • UEFA has confirmed Chelsea's Champions League clash at Bayern Munich next week will be held behind closed doors.
  • A player from the AFL's Fremantle Dockers has been sent in for a precuationary coronavirus test. The unnamed player came down with flu-like symptoms, after he had contact with a friend who had been in China earlier this year.
  • Black Sticks men and women will not travel to Europe for the latest round of Pro League games in Netherlands and Germany.
  • NZ Breakers and Tall Blacks star Corey Webster has been derailed for a second time, with the Italian basketball league closed down by the epidemic.
  • WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) has requested its performers decline handshakes with fans at autograph and meet & greet sessions.
  • Major American sporting leagues - basketball, ice hockey, baseball and soccer - are closing locker-room access to the media as a precautionary measure.
  • NZ Football is still taking a 'wait-and-see' attitude to All White friendlies against Oman and Bahrain this month.
  • Saturday's Ireland v France Six Nations rugby clash, scheduled for Paris, has been postponed, after the French government banned gatherings of more than 1000 people.
  • The Olympic flame lighting ceremony at ancient Olympia on March 19 will take place without spectators, only 100 accredited guests from the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo 2020 organising committee.
  • The Olympiakos-Wolverhampton Europa League football flash on Thursday will be played in Athens without fans.
  • FIFA 2022 World Cup Asian qualifiers scheduled for March 23-31 and June 1-9 have been postponed.

More to come