March 10, 2020 / 4:54 PM / in 24 days

Shutdowns and lockouts as coronavirus impacts top leagues

LONDON (Reuters) - Europe’s top soccer leagues and competitions continued to grapple with the evolving coronavirus crisis on Tuesday with most carrying on but many barring fans from attending matches.

Soccer Football - Serie A - AC Milan v Genoa - San Siro, Milan, Italy - March 8, 2020 General view of a steward inside the stadium during the match. The match is being played behind closed doors to spectators as the number of coronavirus cases grow around the world REUTERS/Daniele Mascolo

Serie A has been left in limbo with the Italy in lockdown in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus that has infected more than 9,000 people and killed 463 in the country.

On Monday the government said all sporting events would be cancelled until April 3, leaving Serie A on hold and with serious doubts as to whether a gripping title race between Juventus, Lazio and Inter Milan will even be completed.

In Spain, where cases have risen dramatically in the past few days, La Liga announced that the next two rounds of fixtures would be played behind closed doors.

The French League followed suit, announcing that all Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 matches will be played without fans until April 15.

Germany’s Bundesliga is also being impacted with this Saturday’s eagerly-anticipated derby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04, to go ahead without a crowd.

“It is not a joke or about spoiling the game. This is about life or death,” Dortmund mayor Ullrich Sierau told a news conference of the decision.

Borussia Moenchengladbach and Cologne will on Wednesday be the first teams to play in a empty stadium in the Bundesliga.

In Portugal this weekend’s games will go ahead but behind closed doors. The Swiss League is on hold until March 23.

England’s Premier League, however, is functioning as normal, for now, with the government saying on Monday there was “no rationale” to follow the example of their European counterparts.

Several high-profile Champions League last 16 ties will be played in empty stadiums, including Barcelona’s second leg against Napoli, scheduled for the Nou Camp on March 18.

Other games in the competition this week — Paris St Germain versus Borussia Dortmund and Valencia versus Atalanta — will also be played behind closed doors.

RESTRICTED ACCESS

Media access to PSG’s Parc des Princes stadium has been restricted to the bare minimum.

In the Europa League Austrian club LASK said no fans will be allowed to watch their match with Manchester United on Thursday. Olympiakos’s home clash with Wolverhampton Wanderers will go ahead behind closed doors. The Greek club’s owner Evangelos Marinakis has tested positive for coronavirus.

Marinakis also owns English club Nottingham Forest who said they are “seeking advice” from medical experts because he visited the club last Friday.

Coronavirus is not just impacting club football. Looming large are this year’s European championship, being played across 12 cities from June 12. Many nations are involved in playoffs later this month to seal their places in the tournament.

So far none have been cancelled but several are likely to be played in empty stadiums.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s FA said it has postponed ticket sales for the playoff semi-final against Northern Ireland on March 26. Bulgaria’s FA announced a similar move for their clash with Hungary while Slovakia’s semi-final at home to Ireland will be played behind closed doors.

The playoffs on March 26 and March 31 feature 16 teams battling for four spaces in the 24-team finals.

Poland, who have already qualified, said their friendlies against Finland and Ukraine this month will not have fans in attendance after the government decided to cancel all mass gatherings due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar

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