Coronavirus could force Italian clubs to ban fans

While Napoli's UCL match against Barcelona on Tuesday is not at risk, Italy's coronavirus-related deaths are forcing action from authorities.

The alternative to banning fans is to postpone games, which would pose problems for the clubs and football authorities.   -  AFP

Italian sport is likely to suffer even greater disruption as the authorities prepared on Monday to announce further measures to combat coronavirus, but Napoli's Champions League match against Barcelona on Tuesday is not at risk.

Italy reported its fifth death from the virus on Monday and it has the most confirmed cases in Europe.

Italian media reported a sixth victim, but officials could not immediately confirm this.

READ: Serie A: Juventus vs Inter in doubt due to coronavirus

Authorities were moving toward ordering all matches scheduled for the coming weekend  to be played in empty stadiums.

"We will probably have closed-door matches from Sunday," said Gabriele Gravina, the president of the Italian Football Association, after a meeting of the Federal Council in Rome.

The most high-profile game on the schedule pits league leader Juventus against third-placed Inter Milan in Turin on Sunday evening.

The spread of Coronavirus helped accelerate the recent decline in the Juventus share price. It lost 11.83 per cent on the Milan stock exchange on Monday to 1.01 euros.

Inter could be forced to play to an empty house before then, when it hosts Ludogorets from Bulgaria in the Europa League on Thursday.

The alternative to banning fans is to postpone games, which would pose problems for the clubs and football authorities.

"We have made an official request to Health Minister Roberto Speranza to have this game played behind closed doors," Gravina told the press. "We expect a quick response, but we have been told that the outcome will be positive." 

Napoli's last 16 Champions League match against Lionel Messi's Barcelona side will go ahead on Tuesday as southern Italy is currently unaffected.

"I want to say that we stand by the people who are affected and the government in its efforts," said Gennaro Gattuso, the Napoli coach said at the a press-conference on Monday. 

The Barcelona entourage had their body temperatures checked when they flew into Naples.

"They checked for fever, nothing more," said Barca coach Quique Setien, "I'm not worried. We're thinking about those who are affected or who may be affected and we send them our solidarity."

READ: Coronavirus spread hits Italian sport as four Serie A games postponed

European football body UEFA said it was monitoring any change in that situation.

"UEFA is following the situation closely and is contact with the clubs and the authorities concerned," a spokesman said.

None of the Inter squad live in any of the 11 towns -- 10 in Lombardy and one in neighbouring Veneto -- so far quarantined to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said that residents could face weeks in lockdown in an effort to sit out the virus.

- Cancelled matches -

At the weekend the surge in infections forced the postponement of four Serie A matches in the regions where the outbreak is concentrated.

The game between Torino and Parma in Turin was called off as well as the matches between Inter and Sampdoria, Atalanta and Sassuolo, and Hellas Verona and Cagliari.

AC Milan also announced the postponement of its women's team's match against Fiorentina on Sunday.

On Sunday, the  government announced that all sporting events in two regions would be suspended, with Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora saying the government had "a duty to be prudent and responsible".

A planned get-together of Italy's under-19 national football team, which was to feature the coach of the senior team, Roberto Mancini, was postponed on Monday.

Two Pro 14 rugby union matches due to be played this weekend have been rescheduled.

They are Zebre's clash with Welsh club Ospreys in Parma, and Irish side Ulster's visit to Treviso-based side Benetton. 

That followed the postponement of the women's Six Nations rugby clash between Italy and Scotland, that had been scheduled to take place in Legnano, north of Milan, on Sunday.

Other sports were also hit with the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) confirming that in line with government instructions, all events in the Lombardy and Veneto regions would be postponed.

"We agree and align with the government's provisions," said CONI president Giovanni Malago. 

"I believe that at this moment the world of sport should not go its own way. Health is the primary concern."

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