La Liga officials are reported to have set aside two separate weekends to complete league matches in the event of postponements from the coronavirus outbreak.
Given that the Spanish Football Association has confirmed, at the request of the Spanish government, that all games in Spain’s top two leagues – La Liga and the Segunda Division – will be played behind closed doors for the next two rounds, there is a real chance that future games could be postponed if players fall foul of the virus or if clubs cannot handle the loss of commercial income from ticket sales and merchandise.
There is genuine, widespread concern that crowds at live football matches could be the ideal breeding ground for coronavirus. Given that there is a reported 4.4/1 chance of a male not washing their hands after going to the toilet, poor hygiene among football fans could be a devastating way to exacerbate the epidemic.
If games played behind closed doors don’t curb the epidemic, resulting in an almost certain pandemic, the Spanish Football Association hopes to be able to play games over the weekend of the Copa del Rey final (17-19 April) and the midweek between the final two weekends of the league calendar (19-20 May).
An internal La Liga taskforce is monitoring the coronavirus outbreak in Spain
Javier Tebas, president of La Liga, confirmed that the league had established an internal department to combat the coronavirus outbreak and make responsible decisions in the best interests of their clubs, players and fans.
La Liga outfit Valencia has already confirmed that all non-footballing events will not be taking place until further notice, including player and managerial press conferences.
Valencia also looks set to play its Champions League second round tie with Italian side Atalanta behind closed doors at the Mestalla.
Football seasons could be cancelled throughout the continent
It’s an even bleaker picture for professional football in Italy, where all sport has been suspended until 3rd April by Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte.
Although Serie A, the Italian top flight, had already confirmed it would be playing its games behind closed doors like La Liga, the decision was taken by the Italian Olympic committee (CONI) to suspend all forms of sport at all levels, as well as a ban on all public gatherings nationwide.
Given that Italy is the second worst nation hit by the coronavirus after China, it’s quite possible that the 2019/20 Serie A season may not reach a natural conclusion.
It’s important to note that the suspension does not cover Italian clubs or national teams taking part in continental or international competitions, such as the Champions League. We’ve already touched upon Atalanta’s trip to Valencia, while Roma’s Europa League tie with fellow Spaniards Sevilla will also be staged behind closed doors.
The French Football League has also confirmed it will be following suit with La Liga and staging all top-flight and second-tier games behind closed doors until 15th April.
The French government has also announced measures to prevent public gatherings of over 1,000 people, ruling out the prospect of a big crowd at the Parc de Princes for Paris Saint-Germain’s crunch Champions League tie with Borussia Dortmund.
Given that the number of COVID-19 related deaths in France has risen to 30, the decision to ban all spectators from games for the next month is understandable.
Across the Channel, it’s still not yet known how soon the English Premier League will have to act and implement restrictive measures on crowds across the country.
The UK’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport said there is “no rationale” at present for cancelling sporting events nationwide.
However, the department spoke with leading sport governing bodies this week and discussed potential responses should the outbreak continue to move at pace across the UK.
The owner of English Championship side Nottingham Forest has confirmed he has tested positive for the coronavirus. 52-year-old Evangelos Marinakis was also present at Forest’s City Ground stadium to watch their game with Millwall on 6th March, raising questions as to whether players and officials should self-isolate.
Should the virus continue to spread, we will surely see more instances of this occurring and forcing the hands of professional sports leagues worldwide.