Coronavirus: Italy’s sports minister brands Serie A decision to play on ‘irresponsible’

Parma’s Serie A game against SPAL was played behind closed doors following a 75 minute delay

Italy’s sports minister has accused Serie A of being “irresponsible” for ignoring his calls for football to be suspended because of coronavirus.

Vincenzo Spadafora had earlier said it “makes no sense” for football to continue after up to 16 million people were placed in quarantine in Italy.

But Sunday’s top-flight games nevertheless went ahead as planned, albeit behind closed doors.

“The world of football feels immune to rules and sacrifices,” Spadafora said.

Speaking to state broadcaster RAI, he added: “Today, games have been played because of an irresponsible act of the Serie A league and its president Paolo dal Pino.

“We are advising Italians to stay at home.”

Last week, Italy’s government said all sport in the country would be played behind closed doors until 3 April, but the increased restrictions announced in the early hours of Sunday prompted Spadafora’s call for the league to be suspended with immediate effect – a stance shared by Italy’s players’ union (AIC).

Parma’s Serie A match against SPAL kicked off 75 minutes late after Spadafora issued his request while the players were in the tunnel ready to start the game.

The players were then called back into the dressing room by the referee as they awaited a decision on whether the game would go ahead or not.

Four other Serie A matches also went ahead behind closed doors on Sunday, including Juventus against Inter Milan, while Sassuolo’s match against Brescia on Monday (17:30 GMT) is also set to go ahead.

The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) is to hold a meeting on Tuesday.

Officials said on Sunday that the number of people to have died from the coronavirus in Italy has reached 366, an increase of 133 in a day.

The total number of infections in the country leapt 25% to 7,375 from 5,883, according to the Civil Protection Agency.

Players’ union the AIC issued a statement after the Parma-SPAL match that heavily criticised the decision to go ahead with Sunday’s fixtures.

“The signals that the sporting institutions are sending out are terrible. It’s dangerous to travel to and from the red zones, it’s dangerous to play football, it’s dangerous to shake hands,” it read.

“The teams went out and played today unfortunately out of a sense of duty towards those who don’t have the courage to decide that football isn’t an exception when it comes to the coronavirus.”

However, in its own statement, Lega Serie A said it had followed the original guidance to play games behind closed doors and criticised the FIGC and AIC for their intervention before the Parma-SPAL match.

“The delay in kick-off for Parma-SPAL was down to the FIGC requesting an urgent discussion on the request of the AIC,” the statement read.

“Contravening what was in the government decree, which authorises Serie A games to be played behind closed doors, the AIC asked a few minutes before the start of the game for the suspension of the league and threatened a player strike.

“This request put the whole system, which has already been badly hindered by the state of emergency, under serious threat, also threatening the payment of the players’ salaries.”

The league also accused the Italian government of issuing “repeated and conflicting declarations” that were “increasing the general state of confusion”.

Elsewhere in Europe on Sunday, France announced a ban of gatherings of more than 1,000 people, a ruling certain to impact on sporting events, while the German health minister has also called for similar measures.

In Britain, sports governing bodies and broadcasters have been called to a government meeting on Monday to discuss the staging of events behind closed doors if the coronavirus outbreak worsens.