The Italian government’s decision to introduce a curfew and restrict the movements of its citizens in an attempt to control the spread of Coronavirus will seriously impact the short term future of the Serie A.
With matches already being played without fans permitted inside stadiums and ‘closed door’ play to become the norm until at least April 3, the long term ramifications of the international health scare that is Coronavirus will be significant for the Italian game.
As the number of postponed matches continues to grow, Coppa Italia, Europa and Champions League play have now been seriously affected. The chances of a brisk resolution to the outbreak that allows the schedule to be caught up on over the next few months appears highly unlikely.
Italy now accounts for the second highest number of confirmed cases of Coronavirus, with over 7,350 people affected from a global total that now exceeds 110,000.
French football has also reacted decisively, with hand to hand contact between players and mascots eliminated in the short term. It also seems likely that further steps will need to be taken across mainland Europe in the near future, with the virus now detected in over 95 countries worldwide.
With football potentially the most notable and common European activity when it comes to gathering people of all walks of life en masse, it is a sad reality that the actions taken in Italy and France are probably just the beginning.
Other countries, governments and footballing authorities will be forced to make similarly firm decisions in an attempt to protect people from an illness that continues to escalate on a day to day basis.
With football as such a fundamental and integral part of the daily lives of most Europeans, it is important that the powers at be are committed to controlling the spread of Coronavirus via the encouragement of responsible, sensible and hygienic behaviour.
Whilst the long term effects of the decisions currently being made are uncertain, there will undoubtedly be significant financial and scheduling impacts for a season of European football that was approaching its crescendo.
Alarmingly, the ramifications also extend well beyond European domestic competitions. After negotiations, FIFA and the AFC have made the monumental decision to postpone the Asian World Cup Qualifying matches slated for the international windows of 23-31st March and 1-9 of June.
The knock on effects of such a move will potentially throw the campaigns of the Socceroos and many other nations into disarray. The logistical nightmare that the rescheduling will cause, could well see many countries unable to access players in July, August and September, when major European Leagues are moving from pre-season to competitive play.
However, the notion of pushing the postponed qualifiers back just a few short months is a best case scenario for the game, with any play at all in 2020 still questionable.
Should players around the globe become infected, the complication of the situation will be taken to an entirely new level. The potential cancellation of entire competitions before their completion is real and FIFA’s reality could well become trying to squeeze two years of World Cup qualifying into one.
With the already stacked and hectic domestic schedules in place around the globe, that may well be a bridge too far for the governing body.
In the short term, Tokyo 2020, an Olympics where Australia’s men’s and women’s football teams are set to compete, could well be in jeopardy.
Veteran IOC member Dick Pound recently conceded that a final decision on whether or not the biggest sporting event on the planet would go ahead could be made as late as May, just weeks before competition is due to begin on the 24th July.
Contractually, the IOC can “withdraw the games from the city” for essentially any reason they see fit. Clause 66 has been enacted on three previous occasions due to war, 1916, 1940 and 1944 respectively, yet never for health fears or the outbreak of a global virus that threatens to kill hundreds of thousands of people.
Already, torch ceremonies transporting the Olympic flame have been considerably minimised and all J-League play has been postponed until March 15, when a reassessment of the situation will undoubtedly take place.
IOC President Thomas Bach has taken a “full steam ahead” approach in his oratory around the issue, consistently stating that the games will go ahead, despite many calls for fans to be excluded from the events to minimise risk and the potential spread of the virus.
At the time of writing, Olyroo and Matilda preparations for the Olympics are in a clear holding pattern, the Socceroos four upcoming and vital qualifiers are in limbo and the European football season could well be about to enter an indefinite break in Italian, Europa and Champions League play.
The health concerns of the virus are unquestionably the most important, however, Australian football had best prepare for similar measures to be taken domestically. What that means for the A and W League finals, NPL play and the junior seasons that loom across the country is uncertain.
However, considering the events currently taking place in Italy, the reality is that Australian football will be seriously impacted in the short term. Hopefully, that impact is effectively minimised and after an inevitable interruption, pitches are again buzzing with action, sooner rather than later.