European football in jeopardy due to the coronavirus
by Daniel Roodt
COVID-19 has had a serious impact on our interconnected world. The virus has pushed the medical and scientific communities to their limits in trying to alleviate and contain the spread of it. It has led to the tragic loss of life, and through the vast movement of people, has spread all over the world.
This has led to radical changes in people’s daily lives as they attempt to curb the spread of the virus. These efforts have seen the closing of schools and universities, as well as the banning of large gatherings of people. This has had a large effect on sports matches, in particular football.
Many European football leagues have taken extreme measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, especially those in areas worst affected by it, such as Italy and Switzerland. This has culminated in matches being postponed and others being played behind closed doors.
The impact of COVID-19 on Italian football has been extremely serious. Several league games, including a top of the table clash between Juventus and Inter Milan, have been postponed.
The second legs of the Coppa Italia (domestic cup) semi-finals have also been postponed.
Foreign teams playing in Italy have taken extra-precaution when returning home, due to fears of contracting the virus.
Initially, those affected matches were meant to be played behind closed doors (i.e in an empty stadium) to avoid the large gathering of fans, however, due to several reasons, these games were rather postponed. Alex Frosio, an Italian Journalist from La Gazzetta Dello Sport, said “Lega Serie A decided to postpone it [Juventus vs Inter Milan], and therefore all other matches to avoid a "bad image" for Italian football showing an empty stadium.”
ABOVE: The San Siro, home to Inter and AC Milan stands empty in the quarantined region of Lombardy, Italy.
The league did not want to broadcast one of the biggest matches of the season to international audiences because of the potential impact it could have on the way foreign viewers see the league, as well as how they view the Italian response to the virus.
The sight of an empty stadium provides an image of the Italian government struggling to contain the virus and would show the considerable impact the coronavirus is having on Italian society.
There have, however, been other theories as to why these games were postponed.
Alex Frosio further elaborates on this, “Many think that Juventus put pressure (on the league) to postpone it because they didn't want to give up big money from the tickets.”
This is an issue that affects all the teams in the league, however, the impact is different depending on the stature of the clubs.
This constant revenue stream is important for the running of clubs, and although all clubs rely on it, without constant ticket revenue, the financial situation of smaller clubs can be severely affected. For example, on the opening day of the 2018/19 season, Serie A champions, Juventus, earned nearly €3 million from ticket revenue in their match against Lazio.
As of 7 March, Serie A matches will no longer be postponed, and will rather be played behind closed doors. Juventus Football Club provided the following statement on the matter, “For a month, until April 3, Serie A matches will be held behind closed doors. These are the new provisions laid out by the Prime Minister's Decree, and implemented by FIGC (Official Statement 173 / A) and Lega Calcio.”
It is not only Italian football that has been affected by the coronavirus. The Swiss government has banned all gatherings with over 1000 people, and as a result, the Swiss Football League has postponed all fixtures until the end of March. These postponements have had and will cause a variety of issues for the league.
While these postponed matches could have been played behind closed doors, this would have had serious financial repercussions for most clubs.
Swiss football expert, Craig King expands on this: “The top teams like FC Basel and BSC Young Boys are all financially well off, being the current most successful clubs in the last decade but other teams below them in the Swiss Super League (top division) are simply not in the position to play games behind closed doors.”
This is due to the large reliance on ticket sales to fund these clubs. King further states, “It isn't an exaggeration to say that forcing closed doors games could be catastrophic for some teams.”
COVID-19 has had a serious impact on European football, and unless the spread of the virus is curbed, we could still see further postponements and possibly even cancellations. With new cases of the virus popping up across Europe, and with many governments trying to limit large gatherings of people in confined spaces, we may still see more extreme measures being taken to control the spread of the virus.
With many leagues and tournaments heading towards the final stages of the season, and with Euro 2020 due to be played in June/July in 12 European cities, the impact on European football could be disastrous.
ABOVE: A man adjusts his face mask, an image synonymous with the coronavirus epidemic.
It is important to note the distinction between a coronavirus and COVID-19. The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes coronavirus as “a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans,” and that several coronaviruses “are known to cause respiratory infections.” COVID-19 is this particular infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus originating in Wuhan, China in 2019.
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