Italian Serie A stalls amidst Coronavirus fears, Australian football must be prepared

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.

Can E-Sports Captalise on this Monumental Opportunity?

The world has been brought to a near standstill as a result of the coronavirus.

Many businesses across the globe, namely small businesses have been seriously hampered. Many may struggle to resurface once everything calms down.

Football clubs are not exempt to this, either.

Around the world, nearly every league competition has been postponed to avoid players, staff and fans from contracting the virus which has claimed nearly 19,000 lives worldwide at the time of writing.

It all started with the Serie A postponing all fixtures. Italy has been ravaged by the virus and it was no surprise that they were the first to temporarily shut up shop.

Spain and La Liga followed suit, before the Premier League and nearly every other competition decided to also bite the bullet and call it off.

Other sports have also been hit hard, with Australian rules football, cricket and basketball in the same boat.

Many clubs and organisations will suffer substantial financial losses as a result and when the dust eventually settles, they will never be the same again.

However, in these dark and bizarre times, one sporting arena has the opportunity to take in the spotlight and grow like they’d never imagined they could.

E-sports have always been a topic for debate. There aren’t many who out and out hate the concept of it, but there is a strong contingent who aren’t fond of it, purely because it’s not the real thing. That it is not a sport.

On the contrary, there are many who believe it is a great niche for some who do have great ability on their respective platforms and that this is a way for them to display their abilities.

With nearly every major sporting code called off until further notice, E-sports is the only sport that will be consistently available to sporting fans around the globe.

There are lots of different games that are played in E-sports. For example, Dota 2, Counterstrike and Fortnite lead the financial market for E-sports.

Nearly $400 million has been handed out to winners across all three of those platforms.

When it comes to sports though, FIFA is well and truly ahead of the game.

Online FIFA has a massive audience around the world, especially in Europe, where many football clubs have signed E-sports players to represent their clubs in major tournaments.

FIFA Ultimate Team has been a huge part of many kids’ lives and now, as they grow into young adults, they now have the unprecedented opportunity to make money off of playing the game they love.

This massive opportunity for E-sports could help them catapult onto a level that could be equal to that of the everyday sports we’ve become accustomed to.

Despite the terrible nature of these circumstances, E-sports leagues across the world would see it as a huge chance gone begging if they were to let this pass up.

There are literally no other sports of note taking place right now.

Unless you can’t get enough of the Russian volleyball, there is not much to turn to at this moment for sports fans.

Granted, tournaments won’t be held in one venue due to restrictions on public gatherings. But as the only requirement is for two players to be present and on a steady internet connection, there’s no reason they can’t keep playing.

FIFA is a universally appreciated game and many fans will begin following their respective club’s representative for E-sports during these tough times.

To simply treat this as normal would be the worst thing clubs and organisations associated with FIFA E-sports could do.

They must take advantage of this enormous opportunity before they never get it back again. Sure, the coronavirus is a large distraction, but if E-sports is to be taken seriously, they must take action.

You can never truly grasp how great an opportunity is until you’ve lost it.

Would you like to see E-sports become more prominent in the wake of the coronavirus? Let us know on social media @Soccersceneau and join in the conversation.

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Above all else, stay indoors and be sensible over the next few weeks or months and look after each other.



How should Australian football best use its COVID-19 postponement?

FFA head James Johnson revealed the worst keep secret in Australian football early Tuesday morning; announcing the immediate suspension of A-League play on the back of the continued threat of COVID-19 . With states and territories having moved decisively on border control and lock down procedures, Johnson referred to a continuation as having become practically impossible.

The W-League did manage to squeeze their season in before the announcement was made, with a grand final between Melbourne City and Sydney FC last Saturday. The Melbourne City women may well be the last football team in Australia to win a championship for some time.

Words such as unprecedented, unique and testing have been common place in language over the past few weeks and the seriousness of the pandemic escapes no one at this time. Public health and prude governance are the most important aspects of the current situation, hopefully, wise decisions and action lead to a flattening of the curve and a slow return to normality over the next few months.

With around 1.8 million Australians who would normally be engaged with the beautiful game at this time of year in isolation and forbidden to compete, it would be prudent for FFA to think about encouraging behaviours that will benefit domestic football when it does eventually return.

As a first port of call, FFA should interact with the federations and ensure that junior players are sent age and skill appropriate drills to complete whilst confined to their home address. Many children will have a backyard in which to complete the drills, whilst others may be limited to small spaces available in apartments or town houses.

Technical directors could construct short clips and illustrated diagrams and then email and/or text the content to players using the official register in each federation.

Many young people will be feeling anxious about COVID-19, thanks to certain sections of the media that do little to encourage calm and thoughtful behaviour. Providing content for kids to work individually on their football skills would be a nice way to add a dose of normality for what will be a very strange time in their lives.

Slightly older players could also be engaged by their clubs, with coaching staff and technical consultants producing content they feel individual players need to work on. Within a supportive and digital environment, coaches might be able to set goals and objectives for the group and could potentially instil a competitive and diligent commitment to the drills that is so often lacking in junior players.

Players at NPL will find great challenges in maintaining fitness levels during the hiatus, with many young players no doubt living in high density situations with partners and young children. At a professional level, the AFL and NRL have set about the task of outlining fitness programs for their players that are adaptable to both indoor and outdoor environments. No doubt, the A-League will be following suit as we speak.

Many of the AFL players spoken to appeared at a loss as to how they would maintain fitness and skill levels without the expensive and vast resources of the football club to which they below. For NPL players it will be even more difficult, with the now closed local gyms the most common place for them to develop and maintain physical condition.

All NPL clubs need to establish a digital forum that includes the players, support staff and coaches in order to be pro-active during what appears likely to be an extended period away from the game. Once again, that sense of collegiality would be emotionally beneficial and with performance targets in place, the incentive to work collectively could potentially avoid any apathy that may occur in isolation.

The successful E-League concept should be immediately expanded with A and W League players engaged in play. A handful of players from each club with some X-BOX or PlayStation experience could be enlisted to play brief matches live on line, with the games streamed for fans to view via the club’s Facebook pages and the official A-League site.

The banter and enjoyment provided by what would no doubt be a comical yet also potentially competitive competition would further engage young fans and continue the objective of keeping the football community connected at this difficult time.

NPL New South Wales’ Facebook page is leading the way with lateral and creative thinking, already posting classic NPL matches for fans to view. The newly launched NPL.TV offers further potential in terms of streamed content and interaction and the National Premier Leagues’ #PlayAtHomeChallenge is a fun initiative that many players will be drawn to.

There is an emotional component to what all professional sport is about to encounter in Australia and monitoring and measuring that will prove difficult. The mind is fundamentally more important than the body and ensuring our football communities remain connected, active and positive is vitally important as most of us enter a period of isolation thanks to COVID-19.

Brisbane City Council waives lease fees for football clubs

Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner has announced Brisbane City Council will waive all charges, rents, levies and permit fees for all businesses as they face economic problems caused by the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

Lease fees for community organisations will also be waived, which includes grassroots football clubs.

In the next three months, fees and charges will be waived for businesses and lessees as part of the $7.9 million business relief package.

“This is about protecting jobs and community organisations, not just the livelihood of business owners,” Cr Schrinner said.

“We will reassess the policy once we know the true impacts on the Brisbane economy and workforce after 30 June. Also, anyone who has just paid any one of the fees since 1 March will be given special dispensation.”

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