March 8, 2020 / 1:22 PM / a month ago

Soccer-Serie A match delayed minutes before kickoff amid calls for league suspension

(Adds AIC statement, changes slug)

ROME, March 8 (Reuters) - Italian football was plunged into a state of chaos and confusion on Sunday when the kickoff to a Serie A match between Parma and SPAL faced a last-minute delay following a call from Italy’s Minister for Sport to suspend the league during the coronavirus outbreak.

The game at the Stadio Ennio Tardini was set to be the first closed-doors match since the Italian government ordered that all games are played in empty stadiums until April 3 in a bid to control the spread of the disease.

Yet Minister for Sport Vincenzo Spadafora asked the national soccer association (FIGC) to stop top division Serie A matches after the government ordered a lockdown of large parts of the north of the country, backing a plea for suspension made by Damiano Tommasi, head of the players’ union (AIC), on Saturday.

Spadafora posted on his Facebook account that players, fans and referees should not be put at risk at a time when authorities were asking citizens to make “huge sacrifices” to battle the outbreak.

FIGC called an extraordinary meeting for March 10 following Spadafora’s comments.

The situation caused confusion in Parma, where the players were in the tunnel ready to start the match, scheduled for 1130 GMT.

The players were then called back into the dressing room by the referees as they awaited a decision on whether the game would go ahead or not.

After a delay of 35 minutes, it was announced that the match would go ahead with a new kickoff time of 1245 GMT.

Following the conclusion of the game, which ended in a 1-0 win for SPAL, the AIC reiterated in a statement its belief that football must be stopped as soon as possible.

“The leagues must be stopped,” read a statement.

“The signals that the sporting institutions are sending out are terrible. It’s dangerous to travel to and from the red zones, it’s dangerous to play football, it’s dangerous to shake hands.

“The teams went out and played today unfortunately out of a sense of duty towards those who don’t have the courage to decide that football isn’t an exception when it comes to the Coronavirus.

“There will be an emergency summit on Tuesday and we expect just one thing, the suspension of the league competitions until it is safe to play.”

However, league organisers Lega Serie A then issued a statement of their own, blaming the players’ union for the farcical situation in Parma and taking aim at Government indecision.

“The delay in kickoff for Parma-SPAL was down to the FIGC requesting an urgent discussion on the request of the AIC,” a statement read.

“Contravening what was in the Government decree, which authorises Serie A games to be played behind closed doors, the AIC asked a few minutes before the start of the game for the suspension of the league and threatened a player strike.

“This request put the whole system, which has already been badly hindered by the state of emergency, under serious threat, also threatening the payment of the players’ salaries.

“The repeated and conflicting statements from the Government only serve to increase the general state of confusion and certainly do not help the football system to overcome this general moment of difficulty created by the virus.”

Parma’s meeting with SPAL was the first of five Serie A games scheduled to take place on Sunday, including a crucial clash between title contenders Juventus and Inter Milan in Turin. (Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie Editing by Toby Davis and Ian Chadband)

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