Soccer

Serie A plays on despite calls from Italian government officials to suspend matches

Serie A played on Sunday despite calls from Italy's sports minister and players' association president to suspend the games in Italy's top soccer division.

On Saturday, Italy reported biggest increase in COVID-19 cases since outbreak began

Serie A played on Sunday despite calls from Italy's sports minister and players' association president to suspend the games in country's top soccer division. ( Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)

Serie A played on Sunday despite calls from Italy's sports minister and players' association president to suspend the games in Italy's top soccer division.

Parma-Spal, the first match of the day, kicked off after a 75-minute delay inside an empty stadium as officials considered an appeal from sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora minutes before the scheduled start.

Spadafora said he supported a call from Italian soccer players' association president Damiano Tommasi to avoid putting players at risk amid the virus outbreak.

"It doesn't make sense right now, when we're requesting enormous sacrifices of our citizens in order to stop the spread of contagion, to put at risk the health of the players, referees, coaches and fans — who will surely get together to watch the games, just not to temporarily suspend soccer and damage all the interests that surround the game." Spadafora said. 

You can't joke around with your health.- Mario Balotelli, Brescia striker

"I think [soccer federation president Gabriele] Gravina should have some additional consideration without waiting for the first case of contagion, before assuming this serious responsibility," Spadafora added.

The players' association was considering a strike, the Gazzetta dello Sport reported.

WATCH | Derby d'Italia plays out in empty stadium:

Juventus beat Inter Milan 2-0 in an empty stadium after the Italian Government decided all sporting events were to be played without spectators due to the coronavirus. 1:19

Striker Mario Balotelli, who plays for Brescia in the Lombardy region hit hardest by the virus, questioned why the games were being played in an Instagram story.

"Playing means travelling by bus, train, airplane, sleeping in hotels, coming into contact with other people outside your club," Balotelli wrote. "You can't joke around with your health."

Five Serie A matches were scheduled for Sunday, beginning with Parma vs. Spal at 12:30 local time (7:30 ET) and concluding with Juventus vs. Inter Milan at 8:45 p.m. (1:45 ET). All of the matches had already been postponed from last weekend.

An appeal by Spadafora for this weekend's games to be shown on free TV "considering the serious inconvenience affecting the population in this difficult time" was rejected by the league.

Parma and Spal players were ready to come onto the field at Ennio Tardini stadium in Parma when they received the news of Spadafora's call for a suspension. The players then turned around and returned to their changing rooms.

Substitutes, who were already on the bench, also got up and rejoined their teammates in the changing rooms.

Then 45 minutes later, the players came back out to warm up again and the match began at 1:45 p.m. (1245 GMT). Relegation-threatened Spal won 1-0.

Sweeping quarantine

Workers inside the stadium wore masks over their faces, while streaming service DAZN showed the game with commentary from announcers based inside a Milan studio.

Italy announced a sweeping quarantine early Sunday for its northern regions, igniting travel chaos as it restricted the movements of a quarter of its population in a bid to halt the new coronavirus' relentless march across Europe.

Shortly after midnight, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree affecting 16 million people in the country's prosperous north, including the Lombardy region and at least 14 provinces in neighbouring regions. The extraordinary measures will be in place until April 3.

Italy on Saturday reported its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases since its outbreak began on Feb. 21. The number of infected people rose 1,247 in the previous 24 hours, taking the total to 5,883. Italy's death toll rose to 233.

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