LONDON: England’s Premier League became the latest high-profile competition to announce a suspension as the chaos stemming from the coronavirus outbreak continues to impact football.
On another frenetic day of sporting turmoil the announcement that England’s top flight league would be halted came shortly after the sport’s European governing body UEFA announced that all next week’s Champions League and Europa League games had been postponed.
England’s Premier League, the richest football league in the world, had stood almost alone in not suspending the season, but at an emergency meeting it was decided that the fixtures would stop until April 4 at the earliest.
The Football League and Women’s Super League are also suspended until April 3 while England’s friendly internationals against Italy and Denmark have been postponed.
All fixtures in Scotland have also been postponed.
The decisions came in spite of the British government on Thursday deciding against banning large public gatherings.
“Following a meeting of shareholders today, it was unanimously decided to suspend the Premier League with the intention of returning on April 4, subject to medical advice and conditions at the time,” the Premier League, FA, EFL and WSL said in a joint statement.
“This decision has not been taken lightly, but the EFL must prioritise the health and well-being of players, staff and supporters while also acknowledging the Government’s national efforts in tackling this outbreak.”
Arsenal’s fixture with Brighton and Hove Albion this weekend had already been postponed after manager Mikel Arteta tested positive for coronavirus. Chelsea’s players were in self-isolation after forward Callum Hudson-Odoi also tested positive.
“I had the virus for the last couple of days, which I’ve recovered from,” Hudson-Odoi said in a video posted on social media. “I’m following the health guidelines and self-isolating myself from everybody for the week. I hope to see everybody soon and hopefully be back on the pitch very soon. Take care.”
Everton, who were due to play Premier League leaders Liverpool on Monday, said one of their players was self-isolating as a coronavirus precaution.
Bournemouth later said reserve goalkeeper Artur Boruc and four members of staff also had symptoms. Leicester City said on Thursday that three players had extremely mild illness.
UEFA said it was stopping next week’s games in all competitions, including the two remaining Champions League matches which had not been already called off Bayern Munich v Chelsea and Barcelona v Napoli, both scheduled for Wednesday.
Two of next week’s four scheduled Champions League last 16, second legs — between Manchester City and Real Madrid, and between Juventus and Olympic Lyonnais — had already been called off because Juve and Real quarantined their players.
“In the light of developments due to the spread of COVID-19 in Europe and related decisions made by different governments, all UEFA club competitions matches scheduled next week are postponed,” UEFA said in a statement.
The decision from UEFA comes four days ahead of a meeting to decide the European soccer calendar, including the possible one-year postponement of the 2020 European Championship, starting in June and hosted by 12 cities.
Numerous qualifying playoffs are scheduled for the end of March and on Friday the Norwegian Football Federation (NFF) said it did not plan to hold its match against Serbia as most of their squad needing to adhere to the country’s new quarantine provisions.
Eight Europa League games scheduled for next Thursday were also postponed. The quarterfinal draws in both the Champions League and Europa League, scheduled for next Friday, were postponed as well.
Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A and the French Ligue 1 are all on hold although the Bundesliga was still planning to complete this weekend’s fixtures.
The German league said on Friday it will play upcoming games in empty stadiums and then vote on a suspension from Tuesday until April 2. That would only include one round of games before a scheduled break for international matches.
That plan was soon thrown into doubt when Bundesliga club Paderborn said coach Steffen Baumgart had been tested for the virus. His team was to play Fortuna Duesseldorf on Friday evening.
“This is crazy. Please stop fooling around and land on reality,” Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara wrote on Twitter. “Let’s be honest, there are much more important priorities than any sport.”
In the German second division, two players from Hanover 96 and one from Nuremberg have tested positive for the virus.
Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2020