Football matches across Europe to be played in empty stadiums

Updated March 11, 2020

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A VIEW of the empty stands at the Mapei stadium as the Serie A match between Sassuolo and Brescia is being played behind closed doors, in Reggio Emilia.—AP
A VIEW of the empty stands at the Mapei stadium as the Serie A match between Sassuolo and Brescia is being played behind closed doors, in Reggio Emilia.—AP

MADRID: All upcoming professional football matches in Spain, France and Portugal, as well as some in Germany and a European Championship qualifying match in Slovakia, will be played in empty stadiums because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Spanish League said on Tuesday that matches in the first and second divisions will be played without fans for at least two weeks. The announcement came after the government outlined a series of preventative measures being implemented to help contain the spread of the virus, including ordering all sporting events with a significant number of fans professional and non-professional to be played in empty venues.

The league said it will follow its recommendations and/or decisions, prioritising the health of fans, players, club employees, journalists, etc., due to the COVID-19 health crisis.

“According to information from the High Council of sports, La Liga Santander and La Liga SmartBank [second division] matches will be played behind closed doors, starting today (March 10) and for at least the next two weeks,” it said in a statement.

“La Liga will continue to be in permanent contact with the Ministry of Health and the CSD to follow its recommendations and/or decisions, prioritising the health of fans, players, club employees, journalists etc. due to the COVID-19 health crisis.”

Portugal announced similar measures for the professional league and said youth football competitions would be suspended between Saturday and March 28. It also said non-professional football matches can’t be played with crowds bigger than 5,000 people.

Later on Tuesday, the French League (LFP) announced that all Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 matches will be played without fans until April 15.

“This decision is in strict application of the ministerial order published on March 10,” the LFP said in a statement with further details on arrangements provided following a board meeting on Wednesday.

The moves came a day after Italy said all sports events in the country, including Serie A games, would be suspended until April 3.

The first major game without fans in La Liga will be between Real Madrid and Eibar at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on Friday.

“For weeks, La Liga has been working on alternative plans in coordination with UEFA in case health authorities decide to suspend any match, creating a plan to play these matches,” the Spanish league said.

Champions League matches are also being affected in Spain, including next week’s game between Barcelona and Napoli at the Camp Nou. Barca said that match will have no fans in attendance.

Spain had previously announced a decision to play Tuesday’s Champions League game between Valencia and Atalanta in an empty stadium. Two Europa League matches in the country have also been affected Sevilla-AS Roma on Thursday and Getafe-Inter Milan on March 19.

In Germany, the Bundesliga will stage its first games without spectators this week. Borussia Moenchengladbach said their match against Cologne on Wednesday would take place in an empty stadium. On Saturday, Borussia Dortmund will face Schalke 04 in one of German football’s fiercest local rivalries without fans.

Bundesliga fixtures had been going ahead as usual, even as the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus continued to rise in Germany, passing 1,000 on Monday. The decision to close stadium doors will ultimately be made on a case-by-case basis by regional authorities.

German Football League (DFL) chief Christian Seifert warned Sunday that “the season must end by mid-May” in order to ensure clarity over promotion, relegation and qualification for international competition.

Dortmund will also play at Paris St Germain in the Champions League on Wednesday without fans under measures previously imposed by French authorities.

The other two Champions League games this week, RB Leipzig’s match against Tottenham on Tuesday and Liverpool’s home game against Atletico Madrid on Wednesday, are expected to be played with fans.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said closing stadiums to fans — a measure not yet taken by English football authorities — wouldn’t necessarily be the best solution.

“The problem with football games,” Klopp said, “is if you are not in the stadiums, then you go watch it closely together in rooms and I’m not sure which is better in this case, to be honest.”

The Irish soccer association said its Euro 2020 playoff match against Slovakia on March 26 will be played in an empty stadium on the instruction of the Slovakian government.

In Greece, the owner of the Olympiakos and Nottingham Forest football clubs said he has the virus.

Greek shipowner and businessman Evangelos Marinakis said in a post on his verified Facebook page that the recent virus “has visited me and I felt obliged to let the public know”. His post says he feels well and is following doctors instructions.

Also, Polish Sports Minister Danuta Dmowska-Andrzejuk recommended that athletes from her country refrain from going to sports events abroad.

Poland is due to host the Europa League final on May 27 in Gdansk, three days before Turkey hosts the Champions League final in Istanbul. Tickets are on sale for both games.

UEFA said Tuesday that both games will be played as scheduled.

“UEFA takes the situation linked to the coronavirus very seriously,” the governing body of European football said in a statement. “We are closely monitoring the situation and are in contact with the World Health Organisation and national authorities regarding COVID-19 and its development.”

Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2020