Serie A descended into chaos on Sunday as the league looked set to be suspended before a last-minute U-turn allowed it to continue amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Parma’s match with SPAL, scheduled for 11:30 a.m. GMT (7:30 a.m. ET) was suspended just before kickoff amid political wrangling over the virus that has gripped the country and sporting events worldwide.
The players were in the tunnel and due to walk out onto the pitch before being told to go back to their respective dressing rooms. Some players were already on the bench and had to walk back from the pitch to find out what was going on.
Serie A has an emergency meeting scheduled for Tuesday.
There were calls from players’ association president Damiano Tommasi and Italy’s minister for sport, Vincenzo Spadafora, to suspend the league, but the Parma-SPAL match eventually went ahead with a revised kick-off time of 12:45 p.m. GMT (8.45 a.m. ET).
Football in Serie A is set to be staged behind closed doors until April 3 following the coronavirus outbreak. Italy prime minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree Sunday, in place until April 3, that is a sweeping quarantine of the northern regions of the country, including the Lombardy region. It restricts the movements of one-quarter of the country’s population.
Tommasi had written to Conte and the Italian Football Association (FIGC) calling for Serie A to be suspended. Spadafora had also backed a suspension. The players’ association continued to push for a suspension of the league ahead of the revised kick-off in Parma’s match, but it was rejected.
“This morning I wrote to Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Minister for Sport Vincenzo Spadafora, CONI President Giovanni Malagò, FIGC President Gabriele Gravina, Lega Serie A President Paolo Dal Pino, Lega Serie B President Mauro Balata and Lega Pro President Francesco Ghirelli,” Tommasi wrote on Twitter.
“Stopping football is the most useful action for the country at this moment. The teams we should be cheering on are playing in our hospitals and emergency centres.”
Said Spadafora: “It makes no sense at this moment, while we ask our citizens for enormous sacrifices to prevent the spread of the contagion, to risk the health of players, referees, coaches, fans who will certainly gather to see games, just to protect the interests that revolve around the sport.
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“Other Federations have wisely decided to suspend football for the next few days. I think it is the duty of the FIGC President Gabriele Gravina to reflect again, without waiting for the first case of a Serie A player infected, before taking on this very serious responsibility.”
ESPN’s attempts to contact Serie A for comment were not immediately answered.
Lazio led Serie A at the start of the day on 62 points, two ahead of Juventus. Reigning champions Juve are due to face third-place Inter Milan later Sunday — the original fixture was postponed because of the coronavirus — but sources have told ESPN both clubs are waiting for Serie A to officially confirm whether the match will go ahead.
Sunday’s matches in Serie A were postponed from last weekend, with Parma vs. SPAL followed by AC Milan against Genoa, Sampdoria vs. Verona and Udinese vs. Fiorentina before Juventus’ match with Inter.
According to The Associated Press, Italy on Saturday reported its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases since its outbreak began on Feb. 21. The number of infected people rose by 1,247 in the previous 24 hours, taking the total to 5,883. Italy’s death toll rose to 233.
Coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, is a new strain of virus that has surged around the globe in recent months. The coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more serious respiratory diseases. Flu is caused by a different virus. There is no vaccine for coronavirus, though researchers are working on one and hope to begin testing soon.
Older people, especially those with chronic illnesses such as heart or lung disease, are most at risk. The coronavirus spreads mainly through coughs and sneezes, though it also can be transferred from surfaces.
The best way to prevent infection is by frequent hand-washing, cleaning surfaces with regular household sprays and wipes, and avoiding close contact with people who are sick.