Italy’s Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora called Sunday for an immediate suspension of the Serie A season due to the coronavirus outbreak that has killed 233 people in the Mediterranean country.
“The FIGC (Italian Football Federation) should consider immediately STOPPING Serie A,” Spadafora wrote in a statement on his Facebook page.
“It makes no sense right now, as we ask citizens to make enormous sacrifices to prevent the spread of the virus, to endanger the lives of players, referees, coaching staff and fans who will surely gather to watch the matches, by not temporarily suspending football.”
Italy has borne the brunt in Europe of an epidemic that first emerged in China at the end of last year and has spread to almost 100 countries.
On Wednesday, the league was ordered to play matches behind closed doors until April 3 as part of broader measures imposed nationwide to limit crowds and fight the spread of the COVID-19 disease.
Italian Footballers’ Association president Damiano Tommasi tweeted on Sunday that “stopping football is the most useful thing for our country right now”.
“The teams to cheer are playing in our hospitals, in emergency rooms,” Tommasi wrote.
Spadafora’s comments are the reported reason for Sunday’s first match Parma v SPAL — one of six previously postponed games being played this weekend — being pushed back over an hour to 1245 GMT.
The clash was supposed to kick off at 1130 GMT but Sky Sport reports that the players were led back into the dressing rooms from the tunnel as they lined up to take the field.
The confusion comes after Italian media obtained copies of draft legislation that ordered the quarantining of the entire Lombardy region in northern Italy, the worst affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
Lombardy capital Milan is Italy’s economic heart, and the region is home to some 10 million people.
The government decree also covers parts of the Veneto region around Venice as well as Emilia-Romagna’s Parma and Rimini.
The decree advised people in the quarantine zones to stay at home as much as possible, and it shuts down all night clubs as well as gyms and swimming pools.
Bars and restaurants will remain open but must ensure that everyone is seated at least a metre (three feet) apart.
It stresses that entry into and out of the new quarantine zones would only be allowed for “serious reasons”.
More 5,800 people have been diagnosed with the virus in Italy in the past two weeks.