March 3, 2020 / 4:20 PM / a month ago

Inter president calls Serie A chief a clown as tensions arise

MILAN (Reuters) - Inter Milan chief Steven Zhang labelled the president of Serie A a “clown” on social media due to the last-minute decisions made by league officials about whether or not matches should be played amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The Italian government has banned sporting events in the country’s most affected regions, which include Milan, and so far 10 Serie A matches have been postponed.

Although the government has given Serie A the option of staging matches behind closed doors, clubs cannot agree on whether that choice is preferable to postponing games altogether.

The death toll in Italy has jumped to 52 and the total number of confirmed cases in Europe’s worst-affected country has climbed past the 2,000 mark.

Serie A said last Thursday that five matches in affected regions would be played behind closed doors at the weekend, then changed its mind on Saturday and postponed them until May 13.

These included Inter Milan’s visit to Juventus which would have been on Sunday night.

The league subsequently also postponed the Serie A game between Sampdoria and Verona that had been scheduled for Monday.

“Playing around the calendar (fixture list) and always putting the public health as secondary consideration,” said Zhang, 28, in a post on Instagram aimed at Serie A president Paolo Dal Pino.

“24 hours 48 hours, seven days? And what else? What’s your next step? And now you speak about sportsmanship and fair competition?

“Shame on you. It’s time to stand up and take your responsibility! This is what we do in 2020!”

Neither Dal Pino nor Serie A have so far replied to his comments.

The ANSA news agency said that the Italian football federation (FIGC) had opened an inquiry into Zhang’s remarks. The FIGC did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Some clubs such as third-placed Inter, who have had two games postponed, feel that they are at a sporting disadvantage to those who have not had any games called off.

Inter have dropped eight points behind leaders Lazio, who have played twice and won both games in the same period, and are six adrift of Juventus, who have played once since the restrictions were introduced.

The head of Italy’s Olympic committee (CONI) Giovanni Malago called for the arguing to stop.

“This does Italy no honour,” he told La Republicca newspaper in an interview. “We have to tackle this in an adult way because we are facing an event that is not just rare, it’s unique.”

Writing by Brian Homewood, editing by Pritha Sarkar

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