March 8, 2020 / 1:32 PM / in 20 days

Serie A ignores sports minister's request to call off games

ROME (Reuters) - Italy’s Serie A league was criticised by the country’s sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora on Sunday for being “irresponsible” after ignoring his request to call off the day’s matches and suspend the competition over the coronavirus outbreak.

FILE PHOTO: A logo of Italy's Lega Serie A is seen in Milan, Italy, December 17, 2019. REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo/File Photo

“Today, games have been played because of an irresponsible act of the Serie A league and its president Paolo Dal Pino,” Spadafora told state broadcaster RAI.

“We are advising Italians to stay at home. The world of football feels immune to rules and sacrifices.”

The Italian government decreed on Thursday that sporting events could go ahead if they were played without fans, which Spadafora acknowledged.

However, after Italy ordered a virtual lockdown across much of its wealthy north on Sunday in a bid to contain the spread of the virus, Spadafora — backing a request from the players’ union (AIC) — asked the national football association (FIGC) to stop the matches immediately.

His request came shortly before Parma and SPAL were due to kickoff in the day’s opening match behind closed doors with the players in the tunnel ready to start the game.

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.

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

After a delay of 35 minutes, it was announced the match would start 75 minutes after the scheduled kickoff time.

The subsequent AC Milan v Genoa, Sampdoria v Verona and Udinese v Fiorentina matches also went ahead in a surreal atmosphere and Juventus were due to host Inter Milan in the evening game, one of the top fixtures of the season.

The FIGC has called an emergency meeting for Tuesday.

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

“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.”

However, Lega Serie A blamed the players’ union and took 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.”

Serie A also complained of “repeated and conflicting statements from the government” which it said added to the confusion.

Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie; additional reporting by Brian Homewood; Editing by Toby Davis and Ian Chadband

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