February 29, 2020 / 12:05 PM / a month ago

UPDATE 2-Soccer-Five Italian Serie A matches postponed due to coronavirus

(Adds Inter chief executive comments)

ROME, Feb 29 (Reuters) - Five Serie A matches which had been scheduled to go ahead behind closed doors this weekend, including the key clash between Juventus and Inter Milan, have been postponed because of the coronavirus crisis, Italy’s soccer League said on Saturday.

All five games, which also include AC Milan v Genoa, Parma v Spal, Sassuolo v Brescia and Udinese v Fiorentina, will now be played on May 13, Serie A said in a statement. The Coppa Italia final, due to be played May 13, was moved to May 20.

The matches had been due to go ahead behind closed doors after the government banned public gatherings in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

However, a soccer official, speaking off the record, said broadcasters and fans did not want the matches to be played in empty stadiums and the clubs themselves were concerned about the loss of gate receipts.

Nearly 900 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Italy, and cafes and schools have been closed as daily life has ground to a halt.

Serie A said in a statement that the decision was made “considering the succession of numerous urgent regulatory interventions by the Government to respond to this extraordinary emergency to protect public health and safety.”

Four matches were cancelled last weekend including Inter Milan’s home game against Sampdoria and the club’s chief executive Giuseppe Marotta said they were running out of dates for rescheduling games.

He added that the situation would be even more complicated if a government ban on sporting events in six regions of the country was extended beyond Sunday.

“As a citizen, and this being an emergency situation, I have great respect for measures to protect the health of everyone but as a sports manager, I am very concerned, especially looking at such a tight schedule of commitments,” he said.

He called for an emergency meeting of the league and clubs “because there are many and delicate issues to discuss and they must safeguard the balance and competitiveness of our championship”.

Marotta said that playing behind closed was not ideal but could be the only solution.

“This could certainly have been resolved sooner, without arriving at last-minute decisions. Everything could have been handled better,” he added.

Five Serie A matches will go ahead as planned — Lazio-Bologna and Napoli-Torino on Saturday, Lecce-Atalanta and Cagliari-Roma on Sunday and Sampdoria-Verona on Monday.

Reporting by Elvira Pollina, Writing by Crispian Balmer and Brian Homewood, Editing by Alexander Smith and Ed Osmond

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